Yogananda was a very playful soul at a young age. There’s a story of the time he used yogic techniques to play dead, fooling his entire family and household, and there are many others — but one stands out as a fascinating example of the relationship between the Guru and the disciple.
The Guru is God in a body. Yogananda would rarely say that anyone was his disciple. Instead he’d say that “God is the Guru.”
As a boy, at Yogananda’s school, there was another boy who was about the same age. During class one day, Yogananda passed him a small paper note. The boy opened it, and read:
“I am your Guru.”
The boy shook his head, scolding Yogananda. “Bad boy!” And he went back to listening to the teacher.
That night, God visited the boy and showed him that indeed, Yogananda was his Guru.
The boy was very thrilled, and looked for the young master the next day. But Yogananda hid from him, teasingly. Hours later, when they finally met, the one boy accepted the other (his classmate!) as his Guru.
This is, of course, what God does with us: encourages us to seek him, and then, when we’re serious, seems to disappear. It sometimes — perhaps often? — happens on the spiritual path that people will have experiences in their first few months that they won’t have again for years of meditation. In this way, God teases us a little bit.
Why would he do this? It is sometimes explained in this way: God wants to know if we are really serious. Will we continue to seek him, even when trials, and potential distractions enter our lives? God watches the heart. He watches for what our love is directed to. In fact, Yogananda said that this is all, or almost all, that God cares about.
During the time he was hiding, Yogananda hadn’t forgotten about the boy, of course. I’m sure that child was very much in his mind. But the boy couldn’t see Yogananda — you see the metaphor, I imagine! Only after the boy had sought his Guru intently did Yogananda appear again.
The Guru is not a body, personality, name, scripture, or organization, though he can work through all of these. The Guru is a living embodiment of the Divine presence and of Divine guidance. He has no agenda except helping others to be free. “My greatest haunting desire,” Yogananda said, “is wanting you all to be as happy as I am.”
I used to wonder if different masters (i.e. gurus) competed with each other. Eventually I realized that this wouldn’t make any sense. Besides the fact that masters are one in their consciousness, what would they get out of having more disciples than someone else?
It’s said that if you take discipleship to a true Guru who is not truly your Guru, he (or she, of course) will guide to the one who is. As Swami Kriyananda wrote in Jewel in the Lotus: “There is no rivalry in God.”
The discipleship ceremony at Ananda is simple. A prayer, a chant, a talk (or a song), a vow, and a blessing: these are the ingredients in this divine recipe.
The ceremony, written by Swami Kriyananda, is intended for those who sincerely want it. Though Ananda Village is a community of disciples of Yogananda, there is no discrimination or pressure towards anyone to take a vow like this.
Everyone has their own right time to take a step like this, and it may not be what is happening for them in this lifetime. Or perhaps they’re on another path, and are committed to another Guru — for example Jesus Christ, Buddha, or Krishna. If so, this is a great thing! “God is the Guru.”
There are a few lines from the “Prayer of Discipleship,” in the ceremony, that are my especial favorite:
Divine Mother, I come before Thee today, having long sought Thy eternal light, long pondered the eternal truths, long followed the winding path that leads to Thee.
I have walked with my own strength, all too seldom with Thine. I have walked with the thought, “I want this from life; these answers; that guidance; this pathway, or that,” but I have seen that, as often as I made claims on life, it eluded me. As often as I presumed on Thy will, it turned away from me.
Ah, too long, Mother, have I sought Thee for myself, not for Thy love. I know now that, without Thy strength added to mine, infusing it, I shall never find Thee. Thine is the power, the grace, the infinite glory.
With loving faith now I seek Thee through the ray of Thy light that Thou hast offered me. I will ascend to Thee not by my power alone, but by the power of Thy infinite love. I am Thine, Mother, be Thou eternally mine.
A friend of mine took a vow of discipleship to Yogananda and our line of gurus last week at Crystal Hermitage Chapel. It was very sweet. Reflecting, she said it felt like an outer expression of a inner commitment that she’d already made.
Why did she want to take the vow at all, then? Because it made that commitment more real. It was an offering of devotion.
Vows, when we put will power behind them, have the power to change us. A vow of discipleship can help change a person’s self identity to that of one who seeks God, who puts aside their own agenda, who listens with childlike openness to others, and who studies Life with the deep desire to learn, spiritually — to one who, in other words, is a disciple.
A reporter once asked Swami Kriyananda, “Do you need a Guru?” Swamiji startled everyone present by saying, “No, you don’t need a Guru! Why would you want someone telling you what to do all the time? But, if you want to find God — well, then you need a Guru.”
The Guru’s job is to love us — and to put that love into action by helping us grow towards our own highest potential. Eventually, it is said we surpass even the need for a Guru, because we become like him: a free soul, a unique and beautiful expression of God. For this reason, it is said in the Indian scriptures that there is no higher gift that can be given than that gift, from God, of a Guru.
A friend, Ramesha, is here at Ananda Village visiting from Ananda Los Angeles, where he lives most of the time. Because of the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan (many Ananda members have been praying for people in those places), we were talking about what we would do if a earthquake hit.
He said, “Well, I’d get under a table — ”
“Actually, that’s the worst place to be,” I interrupted enthusiastically, and proceeded to explain why it is safer to be next to a table than under it. Maybe true, maybe scientifically researched, but still on the level of the intellect. Ramesha listened to my rushed explanation.
“You know, I’ve heard so many different ideas about what you are supposed to do in an earthquake,” he responded thoughtfully. “I don’t think I could ever remember what to do. I’m just going to call on Master.”
Every situation is unique. Rules and guidelines can inform, but praying to a saint, even in the worst of times, is the best solution. Through a saint, God can protect us directly or intuitively guide us to do the right thing. We only need to be awake, ready, and listening.