In a comment on one of these two verses Lakshmana Sarma wrote: ‘The sage who is accepted as one’s Guru must not be regarded as just a human being, a person, but as an incarnation of God Himself, because that is the truth of the sage, and because, if the Guru be so regarded, the goal will be reached soon.’
The point of the second half of the Anubandham verse thus becomes more clear. One goes to a Guru for liberation, but if one has the belief or attitude that he is one’s equal, or just an ordinary person, one is unlikely to receive it. Having a strong conviction that one’s Guru is God Himself can help one to retain, as well as gain, an experience of the Self. This was brought home to me a few years ago when I interviewed Sharad Tiwari, a devotee of Papaji who had had an experience of the Self within a few days of meeting him in the 1970s. When I spoke to him in the mid-90s, about twenty years after the experience had happened, he told me that the experience had never left him. I have met many people who claim to have had a direct experience of the Self in Papaji’s presence, but the vast majority of them seem to lose the experience later. When I interviewed him in 1996, I asked Sharad why other people were losing the experience whereas he had managed to keep it.
David: Papaji shows people who they are. Sometimes, though, he says that it is up to the person concerned to recognise it and not throw it away. From what you have told me, in your case the experience never went away. Why do some people like you stay in that state while others appear to go back to their limited viewpoint again?
Sharad: Anyone who recognises Papaji as God and who never wavers in his conviction that Papaji is God will keep the experience naturally and effortlessly. That is my firm conviction. When the glimpse comes, it is God revealing Himself as God within you. If you treat Papaji as God, and if you treat the experience he has given you as an experience of His divine nature, it will never go away. If you allow the ego to arise again and cover up the experience, it means that you have thrown away your previous knowledge that Papaji is God, along with your belief that the experience he gave you is God Himself shining within you. It all comes down to having the right attitude.
David: How do you yourself hold onto the absolute conviction that Papaji is God? Is it through awareness of his form, his formlessness, or a combination of both?
Sharad: There is no difference between form and the formless. Form itself is formless and the formless is the form. To know Papaji as God is to know that there is no difference between the two. (Nothing Ever Happened, volume three, pp. 127-8)
Later in the interview Sharad, who is something of a mystic visionary, told me, ‘Quite often I see the gods dancing around him in mid-air, paying obeisance to him. When I see the gods themselves bowing before him with my own eyes, how can I doubt that I am in the presence of the Supreme Lord?’
This injunction in the Anubandham verse – that of not displaying advaita towards the Guru – seems to apply even after full liberation, when both Guru and disciple, abiding in the natural state, effortlessly know and experience the truth of the non-dual Self. Bhagavan used a colourful but apt image to convey this. He said that even though a Hindu wife may have enjoyed sexual union with her husband, in public she will still show him deference and respect.
Formal respect is only for external show. When the husband and the wife are in bed, where is all this [formal respect]? ( Sri Ramana Pada Malai, by Sivaprakasam Pillai, cited in The Power of the Presence, part one, p. 63)
If it is properly understood, the tradition of intimate and true disciples showing external deference to the Guru, who has accepted them as rightfully his, is similar to the respect shown by a wife to her husband, which is limited to outward behaviour only. (Guru Vachaka Kovai, verse 304)
Extending this analogy into the spiritual realm, the disciple may have attained oneness with his or her Guru, but the behaviour he or she exhibits is always reverent and deferential. This is what Sadhu Om has to say on this point in his commentary on this verse:
When the Sadguru has destroyed the ajnana that is his disciple’s individual consciousness; when he has graciously bestowed upon him the experience of non-duality; and when he has made him one with himself in the state where duality is no more; even then, such a disciple will always serve his Sadguru and show for him a fitting respect, and will continue to venerate his name and form. Although, in an inner sense, it is not possible to show a reverence that is dualistic in the state of oneness where duality is not present, still, that disciple will show respect outwardly, just as a wife acts respectfully toward her husband.
… as long as the Guru and disciple appear in the perceptions of others as separate individuals, possessing individual minds and bodies, it will always appear to others that they are, in reality, separate from each other. Therefore, even when this perfected disciple who knows reality attains the non-dual state in which, in his Heart, he and his Guru are one, he will always conduct himself in a subservient and deferential manner toward his Sadguru, such that other disciples, taking him as an example, will follow him and behave in a fitting manner. (Sri Ramanopadesa Nul Malai – Vilakkavurai, pp. 315, 1987 ed.)
I have found this to be true with all the great teachers and enlightened beings I have been associated with. Nisargadatta Maharaj, for example, did an elaborate Guru puja every day of his life, long after he had realised the Self. One morning, just before he started, he paused to give an explanation of this daily ritual. ‘I don’t need to do this at all. There is nothing that I can gain from it because I know who and what I am, and what I am cannot be added to in any way. My Guru asked me to do bhajans and puja every day, and even though I no longer use them to attain a spiritual goal, I will continue to do them until the day I die because my Guru asked me to do them. In carrying out these orders I can show not only my respect for his words but also my continuous, undiminishing gratitude to the one who gave me the knowledge of who I really am.’
Muruganar wrote thousands of verses in which he thanked Bhagavan for bestowing the state of liberation on him, but he still did elaborate full-length prostrations whenever he came into Bhagavan’s presence. Sometimes he would remain lying on the floor after his namaskaram was completed and talk to Bhagavan while he was still prostrate at his feet. Viswanatha Swami used to make fun of Muruganar for this, calling the resulting conversations ‘lizard talk’. (Moments Remembered, pp. 56-7)
Once, while I was sitting with Papaji, someone asked him if he had any regrets about his life. At first he answered ‘no,’ but after a few seconds’ reflection he added, ‘Actually, I do have one regret. Because my legs are now almost paralysed, I can no longer throw myself full length on the floor at the feet of my Master.’ In his later years he had to be content with a standing ‘namaste’ whenever he wanted to pay his respects to Bhagavan’s image.
And what about Bhagavan himself? His respect and veneration towards Arunachala, his Guru, were legendary. However, I will just mention one interesting point. When he composed his philosophical works such as Upadesa Undiyar and Ulladu Narpadu, his tone was non-dualistic. The verses were an uncompromising expression of what the Anubandham verse calls ‘advaita within the Heart’. However, when Bhagavan wrote about his Guru, Arunachala, in his devotional poems, he often adopted the pose of the loving, grateful devotee, a standpoint that enabled him to show proper respect and veneration to the form and power of the mountain.
One final story about Bhagavan: when Arunachaleswara (the God Arunachala who is the principal deity in the Tiruvannamalai temple) was being taken in procession around the hill in the 1940s, the procession stopped outside the gate of Sri Ramanasramam. Bhagavan noticed it as he was taking a walk to the cowshed. He sat on a bench to watch, and when devotees brought him vibhuti as prasad, he applied it reverently to his forehead and remarked, ‘The son is beholden to the father’. (Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, 21st November, 1945)
Postscript, 30th September 2008
I was going through my Word files on Living by the Words of Bhagavan yesterday, making sure they were in order, because a publisher has agreed to bring out a Russian edition. I noticed that the final conversation in the book (pp. 353-6) was a highly relevant discussion of the relationship between the Guru and the disciple, which is the main theme of this post. I am adding it here:
Question: Is the relationship between the Guru and the disciple a real relationship or a maya relationship? If it is a maya relationship, how can it help us to transcend maya?
Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan used to give, as an example, the story of an elephant that dreamed it was being attacked by a lion. The shock of seeing the lion in the dream was sufficient to wake the elephant up. The Guru, according to Bhagavan, is the roaring lion who appears in our maya dream and shocks us so much that we wake up into jnana. While the dream is in progress the lion is very real for us, but when we wake up there is no lion and no dream. In the state of jnana we become aware that there was no Guru and no disciple; there is only the Self.
But we should not have that attitude prior to realisation. While we are still trapped by maya we must accept the Guru-disciple relationship as being real because this relationship provides the only way of transcending all the wrong ideas we have about ourselves. Even though we may know intellectually that all is one, we should revere the form of the Guru because it is only through his grace that our ignorance can be dissolved. We should respect the Guru and his teachings at all times. We cannot do this if we start treating him as an ordinary person who is no different from any other manifestation of the Self. Respect for the Guru and faith in his teachings are essential for all those who want to make progress.
The outer Guru appears to tell us about the reality of the Self, who is the inner Guru. With our defective vision we cannot see or experience for ourselves that this is true. The inner Guru pulls us towards the Self and establishes us there. The inner Guru is waiting at all times to perform this function but he cannot begin until we turn our attention towards him.
It is the outer Guru who tells us, ‘Turn within. Put your attention on the inner Guru and let him pull you back into your source.’
In addition to giving these instructions, the outer Guru transmits his grace to us, cleans our minds, and pushes them towards the inner Guru, the Self. All Gurus are the Self.
All Gurus are formless. And all Gurus are ultimately one and the same. The outer forms of the Guru may appear differently to different people but there is really only one Guru, and that Guru is the Self. When we reach spiritual maturity, the Self manifests to us in the form of a Guru in order to help us to make further progress with our sadhana.
The relationship with the outer Guru lasts as long as it is necessary. It lasts until the sishya [disciple] knows from direct experience that the Self alone exists. In my case a time came when it was no longer physically possible for me to be with the form of the Guru. Bhagavan severed the physical relationship because he wanted me to be aware of him as he really is. When you pass your exams at school, you graduate to the next class. We cannot enter the same class again. I graduated from regarding Bhagavan as a form and came to regard him as the formless Self. After that I was never given the chance to have a relationship with Bhagavan’s physical form again.
Other disciples were treated differently. The Guru does not give the same treatment to all. He looks at the maturity and the predilections of each disciple and gives an appropriate sadhana to each one. For example, Bhagavan encouraged some of his devotees to sing devotional songs because that was an appropriate path for them. In my case he encouraged me to be aware of the formless Self.
When a calf is very young its mother gives it milk whenever it is hungry. But after it has learned to eat grass the mother gives it a kick whenever it tries to drink milk again. After I had learned to make contact with the formless Self, Bhagavan gave me a kick when I still tried to carry on drinking the grace from his physical form. He wanted to wean me from his form. He wanted me to get all my spiritual nourishment from the formless Self.
One should not leave the Guru thinking that one has learned everything from him. That is a very arrogant attitude. One should only leave the Guru if he tells us to go. Until then we have to stay and learn our lessons from him.
Each of us will meet a different form of the Guru. The form we meet depends on our maturity and our spiritual ripeness. Each Guru gives out different teachings, and often one Guru will give different teachings to different disciples. It is a question of maturity and temperament. The disciples in the kindergarten class will get kindergarten lessons while the disciples in the college class will get college-level teachings. And within each class there will be different lessons for each disciple. Some may be told to follow a bhakti path while others may be told to do meditation on the Self.
The many different paths that are taught are really only preparations for Bhagavan’s path. Ultimately, one must learn to abide in the Self by meditation on the Self or by self-enquiry or by complete surrender. Unfortunately, there are very few people who are spiritually mature enough to follow Bhagavan’s highest teachings. Most people have to follow other paths until they are ready for the final path.
Your original question was, ‘Is the Guru-disciple relationship real?’ From the standpoint of the Self one would have to say that it is all maya, but one could add that it is the best kind of maya. One can use a thorn to remove another thorn. Similarly, one can use the maya-like Guru-disciple relationship to root out maya in all its manifestations. Maya is so firmly established in us that only the illusory Guru-lion in our dream can give us a big enough shock to wake us.