Now with the internet, it seems that people in very remote places can have the virtual darshan of great saints and spiritual figures. My question is that how important is it for people to actually be formally initiated to advance to serious levels of realization?
This is a good question to ask, as I’m sure many people are wondering how the internet affects the need for direct spiritual contact with saints and masters.
Yes, people can have the “virtual” darshan of a saint through the internet, but not the actual darshan. These are two very different experiences for those who want to go deep spiritually. The internet has provided a wonderful thing – broad access to, and awareness of, spiritual realities for anyone who is seeking. It has provided Ananda with the ability to reach out in support of spiritual seekers and devotees all over the world, no matter where they may live. But this kind of sharing alone is generally not sufficient to take us to the deeper levels of spiritual realization. This is because deeper realization is accomplished through attunement to the consciousness of someone who has achieved that level of realization. For this to happen, we need to be in their physical presence. In some rare instances, for those who are already highly advanced spiritually, this attunement and the guidance it provides can come in meditation. But for most people it is essential for this to happen in person.
I would say that the internet is very good for providing spiritual support, but for going deeper in realization, it is necessary to have at least some direct, physical contact. In fact, Paramhansa Yogananda said that it is necessary for a disciple to have at least one physical contact with the guru.
Therefore, it is important for people to have not only formal initiation, but also direct contact with those who have achieved those advanced states of realization. Without that contact, it is not possible for most people to develop the intuitive perception (not merely the intellectual understanding) needed to come to deeper states of realization.
The further reality is that to have the subtle guidance necessary to achieve deeper levels of realization, one needs to have entered into the disciple-guru relationship. The guru is your own God-given instrument through which you will be guided inwardly. It is the guru who gives you the grace (spiritual power) to achieve deepening levels of attunement, and, eventually, God-realization.
As you can feel, this is a deep subject and one you might like to explore more in depth. Both the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, and The New Path by Swami Kriyananda (if you haven’t already read them) offer wonderful examples and teachings on what it means to be a disciple and what it looks like to go deeper in the relationship with a guru. Both books are available at the Crystal Clarity Publishers website (www.crystalclarity.com)