Like a single warrior facing a king’s army, the spiritual seeker tries to subdue the army—one’s own ego. Armed with only a monkey mind, unrestrained sense organs, and a body subjected to nature’s control of the physical body, the spiritual warrior is left virtually defenseless and at the mercy of the forces of karma and the pull of samsara.
The king’s army, or ego, is tasked to keep interlopers at bay. This ego and body are built—dating back to the days of our earliest ancestors and to the reptilian brain—to protect and defend our very being against attack and extinction. So, good luck spiritual warrior!
The ultimate task for this lone warrior is to live more spiritually authentic in their faith, and with the protection of the Guru, one’s spiritual guide. It is impossible to defeat, subdue, vanquish, or overcome this king’s army—the ego—alone. And this is what Arjuna learned on day one as he faced the army on the battlefield of his mind, as portrayed in the Bhagavad Gita. And, it is the very reason that Arjuna came to realize that to be victorious over his own ego—to gain mastery over his mind—he needed to attune himself to Sri Krishna’s (the Higher Self, the inner Guru) guidance.
The syllable “gu” means shadows. The syllable “ru,” he who disperses them. Because of the power to disperse darkness, the Guru is thus named.
—Shukla Yajur Veda, Advayataraka Upanishad 16
If we know anything about a path at all, it’s only because of the Great ones that have gone before us.
Out of their lovingkindness, they have left some footprints for us to follow.
The goal of any spiritual seeker is to realize his or her True Nature. This is the union, at-Oneness, communion, nirvana, Self-realization, enlightenment, and liberation that every wisdom tradition speaks about. This is a return to Buddha nature, to the realization of Sat-chid-ananda (Truth-knowledge-bliss) that is our essential enlightened nature, which manifests as wisdom, love, compassion, equanimity, joy, selfless service.
When we connect with our heart of devotion, then, in that moment, we are connecting very powerfully, immediately, and directly with the awakened heart of the Guru and the lineage, as well as our own inherently awakened state. Working with our devotion means that we are not just relying on our own efforts. We are opening ourselves to a source of blessings that is an embodiment and a reflection of our own fundamental nature.
—Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
An analogy often given is that of the sun, which represents our enlightened nature, obscured by clouds (the fluctuations of mind and moods of the ego) that come and go. These clouds contain the kleshas (obstacles), unskillful means, ruminations of the mind and ego, and everything that obscures our awareness and ability to see beyond those clouds to the shining sun.
When even a little bit of sunlight penetrates through the veils of darkness and ignorance that obscure our vision, we’re able to get a glimpse of the radiance that can eradicate this darkness. With dedication, devotion, and humility, the spiritual seeker is able to make their way out of the darkness into the light—much like a baby chick is able to crack through the eggshell to be released into full life, in the light of day.
Samsara is mind turned outwardly, lost in its projections; nirvana is mind turned inwardly, recognizing its nature.
—Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
It is often only at the moment of death when this transformation can happen. During this transition from living to dying, the dualistic mind begins to dissolve, fixations fade, and the ego releases its hold. As the body begins its dissolution, the clouds once obscuring the bright rays of the sun filter in and we have a fleeting opportunity to recognize our true nature. If we miss this opportunity—because we have not sharpened our awareness of the nature of mind and reality, cultivated a healthy detachment to this impermanent life and all it wants held and we held dear—the veil once again begins to descend. Then, the covering that blocks the sunlight becomes more dense, and once again begins covering over our awareness. Yet, for the fortunate few, the moment of death provides a rare opportunity for enlightenment.
However, there is another opportunity for enlightenment that resides among the living: the alchemy of true discipleship. In this relationship, a true spiritual master guides the process as the sincere student begins the long journey of recognizing his or her True Nature. Whether the Guru is in a physical body—whatever the name or the form—or through a body of teachings, that Guru is One and is able to guide the sincere, humble, dedicated, and devoted seeker.
So out in the open, I appear hidden. So silent, because I am constantly talking with you. Every step of the way I will walk with you and never leave you stranded.
The teachers who have risen from their bodies, or who have dropped their bodies, are still in the astral world. And if you really have that interest they can teach you. Only the bodies come and go. So teachers, when they leave this body, can still teach you from the astral level.
—Sri Swami Satchidananda
How many times and how much do we invest in holding up the veils that obscure the truth and the opportunities for enlightenment? The Guru aids students in navigating the path, gaining mastery over the obstacles, cracking open the egg shell, and reaching the summit.
When we live in deep awareness of the benefits of the Guru-disciple relationship this illuminates a pathway to enlightenment. And, from that cosmic awareness flows enlightened living: inner peace, lasting happiness, deep meaning, unconditional love and connection, freedom from fear, and everything we all seek from the deepest place in our hearts.
To attain union is so impossibly difficult because it is impossible to become what you already are! Union is nothing other than knowledge of oneself as the Only One. —Meher Baba
My Salutations to that Guru who revealed to me that Truth, which is unfragmented, infinite, timeless divinity, and which pervades the entire universe—movable or unmovable.
My Salutations to that reverential teacher, who opened my eyes, by applying the divine collyrium of self-knowledge in my eyes, which had got blinded by the cataract of ignorance.
Guru himself is the creator, sustainer and the destroyer. He is verily the very transcendental divinity. My reverential salutations to that glorious teacher.
My Salutations to that reverential teacher, who revealed to me that which pervades everything in this world, whether animate-inanimate, or movable-immovable.
My salutations to that glorious Guru, who revealed to me that self-effulgent divinity (the pure unconditioned consciousness) which pervades all the three worlds, with all its movable and immovable objects.
My salutations to that reverential teacher who by imparting the Self-knowledge, has burnt away the very bondage of actions in a whiff, which had even though taken infinite lives to accumulate.
There is no higher truth than the Guru, no higher practice than service to the Guru, and there is nothing higher than Realization of the Knowledge of the truth imparted by the Guru. My salutations to such a Gurudev, who is himself that very timeless truth (and who has taken up a form to bless his disciples like us with real knowledge).
My teacher is the teacher of the entire universe; and my Self is the Self of all. My salutations at the lotus-feet of such a Guru, who has revealed such knowledge to me.
—excerpted from the Guru Stotram
(This article is offered on the 105th birth anniversary of Sri Swami Satchidananda, founder and spiritual head of Integral Yoga International/Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville, by Integral Yoga Magazine.)