“Discipleship” is Part 6 of six articles on “Gurus and Disciples” at durgama.com/articles.html. Since Part 6 hasn’t gone up yet, I thought I would go ahead and share it with you here. Go to the above link for the other five parts of “Gurus and Disciples”.
Gurus and Disciples – Part 6
The old traditions can be difficult to translate into our own time and culture. In the past, to ask a teacher to accept you as a disciple, forsaking all else, you would take all you had—all your cows and horses—to the guru, who would then expect you to live there, or possibly near by, and take care of needful things, e.g., his house and land if he had any, and to beg or supply anything needed for both of you if he didn’t.
If you passed muster, you could be accepted as a disciple. Then, added to your sadhana, which up to this point has been guruseva (selfless service to the teacher), would be learning, meditating, and doing other practices of the path. And this might be only a test run to see if you would stick with it and participate fully in the community (if there is one), serve the teacher, and do your practices, before being accepted as a disciple.
There is an old story about a farmer who took all he had—cows, horses, and everything of value—to his Guru, and asked to be his disciple. The Guru said, “Well, let’s see. First I need you to build me a house, right where we’re standing.” The farmer built the house. When the Guru came to look it over, he said, “I’ve been thinking it over, and I think I’d really rather have a house over there.” The farmer built another house. This had already taken a year, but the Guru wasn’t quite finished. When the farmer brought the Guru to see the new house, he said, “Well, I really think the house should be on that rise over there.” The farmer built a third house, questioned the wisdom of his choice of Gurus, and built the house anyway. This went on twice more, making five houses in all. Finally, the Guru relented, moved into a nearby cave, took the farmer with him as his disciple and began teaching him. The farmer remained loyal to his Guru, accomplished his goal, and in time, became a well respected Guru himself. I never learned what happened to the five houses, but I believe his Guru was the well known sage, Padmasambhava.
Before you ask anyone to accept you as a disciple, consider what you are asking. Do you know what will be expected of you? Here are some things you could ask yourself before taking such a step:
- Do you want the guidance of an experienced and learned Guru? Can you respect the teacher enough to accept that guidance, whether you understand it or not?
- Are you willing to do guruseva (selfless service to the teacher)?
- Are you willing to help support your guru, to help keep that person alive and well and thereby available to you?
- Are you loyal, or do you tend to come and go? Or are you just exploring? Or are you trying to test the teacher?
- Have you done enough shopping to settle down and get down to the business of spiritual practice. If you don’t know what this entails, you would need to find out.
- Have you read any part of the Guru Gita to see how deeply this relationship can go, and how that might affect you? You can find excerpts of The Guru Gita on Mystical Tidbits.
- Are you willing to teach or facilitate if you are asked to do so by the Guru?
- Are you sufficiently inspired by the Guru to tell other people about him or her? Or would you rather leave this duty to others because you want to keep the numbers down, or have the Guru to yourself, or for any other reason?
- Are you serious enough about God/Truth, to put this at the top of your priority list?
If you cannot put your guru and sadhana at the top of your priority list, you do not want to be anyone’s disciple. The most excellent of disciples does not even have a priority list. For this person, God is the only goal.
Kripalu says . . .
Only one who enjoys the practice of yoga more than worldly life becomes fit for the grace of Guru. Through the practice of yoga, the seeker’s attachments gradually decrease on their own. If a seeker does not spend enough time practicing yoga and remains very much involved with worldly activities, he or she cannot make much progress, even after receiving shaktipat.
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My teacher was an hour and a half away from where I lived, but I managed to get there twice a week and as many weekends as I could, and gave what I could. I was raising two children alone, so they sometimes went with me. I had very little money, and I was not well. I wanted God and yoga sadhana very badly, so when my children left the nest, I gave away and sold everything that didn’t fit into my car, and went there to live. I have never looked back. If I can do this, anyone can. I wanted it, and I was not disappointed. You have to ask yourself if you want it. If you do, then be willing to do what you have to do to get it. If you can do that, you will succeed quickly.
As a teacher, I require very little compared to the old traditions, but I have come to realize that it is a disservice not to ask anything of my students, for this does not serve the them at all, but robs them of the opportunity to do a kind of spiritual practice that will clear the way to their goal. In fact, it is as essential to the relationship as it is to successful sadhana.