The aim of yoga is to realize that we are all connected. We share one heart, one consciousness, and one Divine Source. Yoga’s method is to provide us with experiences that help us grasp this. To realize that we are all connected, it is helpful to connect to one other person. In the yogic tradition this connection is experienced through a relationship with a guru, a teacher who facilitates the awakening of unitive consciousness. By acknowledging a guru, you connect to those who have trod the path before you. In doing so, humility dawns and awakening is possible.
The concept of guru is difficult for most Westerners to accept, because we like to think we are in charge. But the truth is that the predominant powers in our society control most people’s lives. Big corporations and the advertising agencies that work for them decide what people think about and shape our society’s values. Methods to gain genuine control over our lives are not taught in our schools; instead, working for material gain is emphasized. Most of us are at the mercy of our emotions, and when we can’t handle them we use alcohol or other drugs, TV, shopping, eating, or sex to make ourselves feel happier. The idea that lasting happiness can be found inside, without having to buy, smoke, eat, watch or drink anything is foreign to us. We may need a translator. The guru is the translator.
Gurus do not necessarily have to be Indian, or enlightened. They may be married or not. They may have regular jobs and not head an ashram. A guru is a teacher who imparts to you insights or revelations about Yoga. A guru may also give you a method to practice so that you may realize for yourself the truth of those revelations.
For someone to be your guru you must acknowledge him or her as such. A guru may not proclaim to you “I am your guru.” That is for the student to proclaim. Once that acknowledgment and appreciation dawns, learning accelerates. Gurus do not require, as some in the West mistakenly believe, that blood oaths be taken or that all worldly possessions be turned over.
You will be taught according to your capacity to learn. So to find a guru become the perfect disciple. Become irresistible to the guru by becoming empty. When you come before a teacher set aside “I know”, so that you can be taught. If you are already filled up with knowledge, like a cup full of tea, and your teacher attempts to pour new tea into your cup, you will just overflow and no benefit will be obtained.
In this tradition knowledge passes from guru to disciple in a continuous, uninterrupted flow. The relationship of guru and student must have a particularly pure quality for the transmission to take place. Respect and love for the teacher must be understood as the same as respect and love for the Divine. This can be challenging, especially for westerners.
The guru tradition is based on humility and appreciation. The respect a student gives a teacher is not for the teacher’s benefit; it benefits the student to acknowledge and bow to another because this opens the connection to the Self within the student. It may help to think of the Guru as a force rather than a person.
Remember “guru” is spelled: “Gee-you-are-you”!
Excerpt from Chapter 5, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life