One Christmas when I was around fifteen I was watching a movie about the life of Jesus. I was terrified and shocked by the crucifixion and the horror people could perpetrate. But I was also in awe of the disciples. As I watched a scene in which a disciple spoke of his devotion to Christ I was moved to tears. ‘Too bad,’ I thought, ‘that a relationship like that isn’t possible today. I would like to have that experience. I would like to be a disciple.’
Many years later when I met my Guru I was overjoyed to discover that discipleship was still available. I understood that Jesus was a Guru and that Gurus exist now and will exist always.
The love of a disciple for the master is beautiful, vulnerable and poignant. A disciple who has surrendered to the Guru is naked. A disciple offers their ego to the Guru to banish individuality and to lay bare the darkest secrets of his or her psyche. The desires to remain an individual, to do well, to have approval, to be loved and accepted, to be first among many, must die.
Once before God, before the Guru, I was riding the bus downtown. As I sat there, I was aware of an ache in my heart. I looked around at the passengers wondering if their hearts also ached. As I watched them the veil between me and them faded. I could see suffering etched on their faces, masks of ugly pain. It was as though every hurtful event had left deep emotional scars. The past somehow doomed them to misery.
The vision scared me. I wondered, ‘is there a way to escape the pain of life? Is there a way to be happy? Is that going to happen to me? Is suffering going to scar me? What is the purpose of all this? What does life mean?’
Some kind of discipleship is necessary if we are going to learn anything. As children we disciple ourselves to our parents, to our teachers, and to our friends. I loved horseback riding and became a kind of disciple to my teacher, whom I loved very much. I could not find that same love or feeling in school.
By the time I could read and write I had lost what little enjoyment I found in school. My mind rebelled against using my intellect. Language was the only subject I liked because it came easily. Nothing the teachers said gave me a sense of purpose, love or self-knowledge. I was bored and the teachers seemed as uninspired as I was.
My mind wandered into gloomy feelings of doubt, disappointment and frustration. If a subject had interested me then I would have applied myself. But none did. Instead my mind dwelt on the psychic discomfort in my inner world. And, there was no subject to address it.
Disciples, on the other hand, mostly learn by osmosis, by watching and observing the Guru, by being in the Guru’s company and by soaking up the spiritual energy, the Shakti.
I love to learn at the feet of the Guru. To sit with fellow devotees in Satsang and hear the teachings on the Self, the Shakti, the Guru, and other spiritual matters is sublime. Satsang is the best company. Satsang never fails to uplift, is never dull, and always inspirational.
Studying and learning with Guruji however, is joyful, especially if the subject is Kashmir Shaivism. There is an inherent aliveness in Shaivite texts. But even Patanjali and Vedanta are pleasurable. Guruji has always taught from esoteric yogic texts with humour and warmth. He had the capacity to make clear the hidden meaning in the aphorisms. He fields questions with sensitivity and wisdom; he invites discussion, objections and skepticism.
When I first started studying these texts with him I was surprised that I could understand even the most mysterious ones. Naturally I have my own quirky way of relating to them. But that is the greatness of learning with the Guru. A wise teacher will encourage a student to take what makes sense, and discard what doesn’t. When learning with the Guru I feel the presence of God and the meaning becomes clear.
In his book Satsang with Baba, Baba said:
The Guru’s feet refer to the Being in whom the Guru stands rooted, and that Being is the Supreme Being, and that Being is the highest truth. The source of worship is the state of the inner centre in which the mind completely merges in meditation. The water of the Guru’s feet flows from the Guru to the disciple. When one attains the state beyond the distinction of you and me, beyond the distinction of mine and thine, outer and inner, Guru and disciple, then one can drink this nectar, the water of Guru’s feet.
Baba goes on to say that when a disciple merges with the Guru principle he or she becomes one with the source of stability, where the Guru’s Consciousness is anchored. That is worship, that is the source of love, that is oneness with the divine.
A disciple of a Hassidic master said:
‘I don’t come to listen to him speak, I come to watch him tie his shoe laces.’
I go to soak up Guru’s grace.
Sitting with the Guru is darshan. In darshan an alchemical synergy flows between the Guru and the disciple. It is a more intimate experience of Satsang. Like Satsang, it ignites the experience of God, the Self, and divine love. Shakti moves between guru and disciple in a Tantric flow of blissful energy. The Guru transmits grace and the disciple receives grace. This is the experience available to us when we sit with a true Guru.
Once in Baba’s Ganeshpuri ashram in the early morning I was working in the courtyard. My shift finished and I sat to meditate. Baba was sitting on his perch. His perch was like a shelf, with room only for him, some precious photos, his peacock feathers, some statues and other gifts to give away. He routinely sat here. Managers, devotees and ashramites would come and speak to him.
As soon as I sat the electric current of the Shakti moved between us. No words were necessary. I was one with him; he was my very own Self. People approached, spoke to him and walked away. These movements did not disturb the divinity that connected us. We were one being. The intimacy, love and acceptance was beautiful. I thought only about God and the present moment. I relished the love for about half an hour. Slowly as more people came my mind became distracted and I lost the thread. I still felt the connection but it was less intimate.
Sometimes darshan is divine but sometimes it can bring up the most painful and fearful thoughts and feelings. The Shakti moves to wash away negativity, blocks, all of the obstacles to the divine experience of darshan. It is painful if we let fear or desire get in the way.
Discipleship is not a career choice, it is a calling. To surrender to discipleship is a kind of self-acceptance, an acknowledgment of the yearning to know God. To deny the calling can cause unbearable pain. This yearning may make no sense from a worldly point of view. It only makes sense from an inner point of view.
Baba once said that a worthy disciple is one who becomes absorbed in the Guru. A good disciple merges with the Guru’s highest state of Consciousness, and eventually attains permanent oneness with the Self. This is my goal in life–to know God, to be close to God and to serve God.
I haven’t always been the most compliant disciple, or the best disciple or perhaps the most worthy. But, I am a disciple and, God willing, I shall always remain one.