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Swami Krishnananda in Conversation
by Swami Krishnananda
Compiled by S. Bhagyalakshmi

33. Concept of the Guru

Swamiji: Even a tree can teach you, be your Guru. A Guru comes to remedy a wrong, to correct a particular defect. And once that is done, the Guru's work is over. The Guru can come as fire, bull, bird, in any form. Like a physician who comes in repeatedly when you fall ill, the Guru will come again and again until moksha is attained by the disciple. There is a story in Chhandogya Upanishad, that of Satyakama Jabali. When he asked for initiation, the Guru told him to tend two cows and a bull, in the forest, and come back to him when these had multiplied into a thousand cattle. The poor man spent years in this work in the forest and patiently increased the cattle to one thousand. When he returned to the Guru with the cattle and asked for initiation, again the Guru said, “Go and tend the cattle, come later”. The Devas, who alone witnessed the whole thing, took pity on him and sent a bull and caused it to give initiation to Satyakama Jabali, who became filled with true knowledge. You think, “What can a bull do?” But even the bull can become your Guru and initiate you.

There is the other case of the disciple who got his initiation by fire—the sacrificial fire, the fire God. The disciple came to the Guru with a glowing face, radiant like the fire. And the Guru asked how it was that he looked effulgent like the very face of the God of fire—Agni. The disciple answered: “No man initiated me. The fire spluttered and I was initiated.”

There are so many stories like this.

Ashramite: I see. So this then is the meaning of Dattatreya saying he had twenty-four or more Gurus?

Swamiji: Yes—Dattatreya had twenty-four Gurus, the elements, birds, human beings, everything. And that is why the Guru tests his disciples to find their level of understanding. Then the defect is corrected. Only what his mind can take at the given level should be told to the disciple. It is no use talking Einstein's theory to a child in kindergarten. (Smiles to himself.) I will tell you a story. A teacher wanted to test two boys for their I.Q. He gave them ten rupees and said, “I want you to buy whatever is needed to completely fill your room roof-high.” One boy thought deeply for a long time and then bought a cart-full of hay, straw, etc. and stuffed them in the room full to the ceiling. The second boy also cogitated over what would fill a room's corners too and took the decision. He bought a fine lamp, filled it with oil and lit it and placed it in the room. Lo, the whole room was filled with light. The I.Q. of the two boys was obvious! (Laughs aloud.)

I will tell you another story. It is not relevant to our talk, it is only that it is funny. A certain official had applied since long for certain rights which had not been granted to him. Despite a long wait and several reminders there was no response from the officer concerned. The applicant went in person. He met the clerk concerned and spoke to him, The clerk replied, “I am not doing you any harm by putting away your papers and never letting the officer to see them; but you will not reward me for that, for not doing any harm to you. You are grieved that I am not doing good to you, that is the officer's job not mine.” The applicant understood his meaning and gave him a hundred rupees which pushed the clerk to complete the papers and promptly get them signed by the officer concerned. The clerk's point was, “You are not doing me a favour for my not doing you harm.”

An ashramite: Why is it, Swamiji, on the one hand you say we must withdraw ourselves from attachment and on the other hand that we must pray for the departed souls?

Swamiji: Because you have not withdrawn yourself from the body relationship. You are still body-conscious. And as long as that is there, you must act accordingly.

Ashramite: Swamiji, on Thursdays we offer special prayers to our Gurus. And on that day is it not right to meditate on the Guru instead of the Ishta Devata we daily meditate on? Can I change the object of meditation for this way?

Swamiji: Why not? Guru and God are one and the same. Guru is God. God appears to you in the form of Guru.

Ashramite: When Arjuna saw the Cosmic Vision, he did not see it as the transcendent being. He saw it as a total of a variety of objects in their individuality. Is it because he was still body-conscious? And hence asked only to see that form of which Lord Krishna had told him? That is that he exists in every single object of the world. And this Viswaroopa was not what he actually asked for?

Swamiji: Arjuna was not conscious of his being within the vision. He saw it as external to himself, as an object. He did not merge in the vision. And the purpose of the vision granted was not to make him merge in it. Lord Krishna wanted to show Arjuna that aspect by which the latter could understand that it was but the Supreme Being that was fulfilling all the objectives. It was to show that the feeling Arjuna got that he was doing it all—fighting, standing against all those that were his near and dear, and the venerable—was erroneous. The object of that vision was not to make Arjuna merge in it. It was to make him fight. And to clear his three doubts: (a) Will I succeed? (b) What will the world think of me? (c) What will happen to me? We Pandavas are so few in number and the Kauravas were so many. These three doubts never leave us till the very last. And it was after eighteen chapters that Arjuna's doubts were cleared. We also have these three doubts. And we are only in the first chapter. Quantity always frightens us. We do not realise that a mountain of straw can be destroyed by a single spark of fire.

Swamiji (to a visitor): You know the Biblical story of the three seeds? Jesus gave them to be sown. Don't think the body does not need care. It should not be neglected. It will kick you otherwise. When the stomach says “I want food,” you must give it food. After satisfying the hunger you can tell the body, “You see, you should not eat too much, nor very rich fanciful food or it will upset you, you will be in trouble.” Only after the hunger is satisfied the stomach will listen to you. But if you straightaway refuse any food to it, it will give you trouble. You should treat a beggar also like that only. You should not send him off saying, “No, this is not the place for you to beg at, go away, don't come here.” You must give the beggar something first, then you may tell him, “Look I have given you today, but don't come tomorrow, I will not give you anything.” Then the beggar will listen to you.

As children we used to ask our grandmother, “Which is greater, the Sun or the Moon? And why?” She replied: “The sun is shining uselessly in day time when there is already light, but the moon sensibly shines when there is no light.” (Everyone bursts into laughter.)

It is said that a good disciple should shut every other indriya but keep his ears open—to allow the Guru's words in! The Guru and God, manifest when a need arises, a crucial condition that needs immediate righting of matters. Only then they incarnate, and once that need is fulfilled they disappear. The Gurus are also of different types. There are Gurus who by a mere look or touch transform the disciple; others bring about transformation by their speech and example. Extreme love and extreme hate can materialise Godhead.

Ashramite: How can extreme hate make God incarnate?

Swamiji: Why not? Hiranyakashipu hated Lord Narayana and He incarnated out of necessity in the form of Narasimha.

Ashramite: Yes, yes.

Swamiji: The Lord had of necessity to take that form; it was the mind of Hiranyakashipu that gave that form to Lord Narayana. The Lord can incarnate in any shape or form. He was incarnate as the Nara in the form of Lord Rama, to destroy Ravana. I mentioned earlier also that Guru can come as a bull, fire, bird—anything as the situation demands.