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The Guru-Disciple Relationship
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Living in Ashrams

Coming to the point, the disciple is supposed to live under a Guru for several years for various reasons, one of which is to be psychologically weaned from the atmosphere of home. The idea of father, mother, brother, sister, etc., must go from the mind of the chela, so he is asked to live with a Guru for as many years as would be necessary to make him free from the obsession of family tradition and family relationship, etc. Twelve years was the usually prescribed period of time, but it was not a watertight period. It could be a little more where necessary or it could be less if it was permitted, though normally it was twelve years.

One reason was that the chela should be separated from psychological obsession—the obsession that a person has towards his family, the idea that 'this is mine', and so on. Another reason was to get acquainted with the spiritual way of living, which is different from the family way of living. It will be interesting to understand in what way the spiritual way of living is different from the family way of living. If you want to know, you must live in an ashram; only then will you understand what it is.

We have an ashram, The Divine Life Society, with so many people, friends—very dear friends. He is my friend, I am his friend, and so on. We live like brothers, yet we are not brothers. That is the difference. It is very difficult to understand this. The relationship of a brother to a brother, which is a physical blood relation in a family, is different from the relationship of a brother to a brother in a spiritual institution. Anyone who lives in an ashram knows that, whether it is an ashram in Pune or an ashram in Rishikesh. It is not a family, though it is a family in one sense.

I will give you a philosophical sidelight to what I am saying from one of the works of Acharya Sankara. There are three kinds of attachment. Sankaracharya says that these kinds of attachment are called bhramaja, sahaja and karmaja, which are Sanskrit terms. Ja means born of, originated from, caused by. Bhramaja means that which is born of illusion, the attachment that is caused by sheer delusion. The attachment that is natural to the constitution of one's individuality is called sahaja. Sahaja means normal, usual, natural. Karmaja is that which is caused by the operation of the forces of past actions. These are the three kinds of attachment. If we do not want to use the word 'attachment', we may use a more palatable term such as 'association' or 'relationship'. So, there are three types of association: association born of delusion, association which can be called natural to the very structure of one's individuality, and association which is generated by the past actions of an individual.

Now, what is this attachment, or association, that is caused by delusion? It is consciousness imagining that it is an individual. This is delusion. Consciousness cannot be an individual, it cannot be located in space and time, and it cannot become an isolated unit because there is no such thing as isolation, division or segmentation of consciousness. Therefore, an idea entering into consciousness that it can be isolated into Mr. So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so, this, that, and so on, is delusion. The identification of consciousness with this psychophysical individuality, this association, is born of delusion, bhramaja, which is some kind of confusion. It is not clear understanding. The other association is what is called natural to the individual. It is accepted and taken for granted that one is an individual, whether or not it can be metaphysically justified. Acharya Shankara says it cannot be justified because of the bhramaja adhyasa point of view.

Well, whatever it is, if you take for granted that you are an individual—empirically speaking, we shall accept it—then something automatically follows. That which automatically follows is called sahaja, or natural. Because it is automatic, it is called natural. What is automatic? The moment consciousness gets individualised, physical and social consequences spontaneously follow in the form of physical attachment, or physical association, and social association.

Many things have happened to us since we descended from God—or fell from heaven, as it is said. There is a very long story of the metaphysical fall of the once-spiritual angels that we were, in a beautiful book called Gods in Exile, written by an Australian gentleman. We are all gods in exile, is what he says. We are exiled from heaven for some reason or the other, and this is explained in different ways in different traditions and theological backgrounds. The association of consciousness with a peculiar medium, which in Vedanta philosophy is termed abhasa, is what Acharya Sankara calls natural association. Abhasa means a reflection of consciousness in the individuality or the intellect of the person concerned. And the moment this reflection takes place, the Universal gets reflected in the particular, the particular gets identified with the body, and we begin to say “This is my body” or, to go still further down, “The body itself is the I”. This is karmaja, or action-born association, because this body is, according to our belief and psychological analysis, not made up of physical elements—not made up of earth, water, fire, air, etc.—though it is so, in one sense. It is made up of the cohesive force of the past karmas of the individual concerned.

You may ask why it is not made up of matter. It is a manner of speaking. Matter is everywhere. Matter is in the wall that I am seeing in front of me. Matter is in the mountain behind me. Matter is there on the ground. But why do I say that this particular lump of earth of this body alone is I, and not this table or this wall? I do not say this wall is I or this table is I. This particular formation of matter alone—the body—is I. How is it? Why do we say that? It is because this body is the shape taken by a group of material atoms, on account of the driving impulse of the past karmas of the individual. Karma is like cement. Cement joins together the bricks of the wall; otherwise, the bricks would separate. Atoms are everywhere. But why should they be joined together and held in unison at a particular point in space and be called a body? That cementing element is karma. So this body is also regarded as a form of karma, and when that karma is exhausted and its momentum is over, there is a disintegration of the elements. The mortar is removed, the cement is scraped off, and the bricks fall down. That is the death of the body.

Therefore, consciousness subsequently gets identified with the body also. Not only that, it goes further into society and says that this is my husband, this is my wife, this is my son, my daughter, my daughter-in-law, my brother, my brother-in-law, and so on. We have gone still further, beyond this body. That we have entered this body is bad enough, but we have gone still further and say “That is So-and-so” or “That person is mine”. What a pity! We do not allow others to be in peace. This is karmaja association.

These have to be cut at the root by the gradual elimination of contributory factors to this sort of thinking, which can be done only in an ashram. Therefore, we go to ashrams. Here also we say that So-and-so is our friend, or that he is our assistant. Even if we say that, there is a difference between saying it in an ashram and saying it in our house. “He is my brother.” A great difference is there, and each one knows for oneself what that difference is. If anybody dies here, we do not weep, but if anybody dies in our house, we beat our breast for days together. If anybody in an ashram dies, nobody will weep, though we are brothers.

This is a very interesting point. Why should we not weep when a brother dies? It is because here, bhramaja is cut off. That bhramaja association, that original psychological attachment of ours, is cut off. We have physical associations, social associations, psychological associations, but not that original thing which ties a brother to a brother or a son to a father, and so on. That is severed. We are internally independent beings, though outwardly we are associated with a group. That is why, in the ashram, we do not weep if someone dies. Hence, these refinements of personality are to be acquired by a new type of educational career that is provided for in ashrams.