The Necessity and Greatness of the Guru by Abhishiktananda

The French Benedictine monk Henry LeSoux wrote magnificently about the darshan he received from the great Advaitic Sages Ramana Maharshi and Gnanananda. Although he took a traditional Hindu name (Abhishiktananda), LeSoux’s residual commitment to Christianity kept him struggling to reconcile East and West in his own heart and mind. In this excerpt from his extraordinary book “Guru and Disciple”, LeSoux/Abhishiktananda argues that the the deepest link between all religions is their common recognition of the irreducible necessity of the Sat-Guru.

Beyond the experience of things and places, of watching or participating in rites, of reading or meditating on the scriptures, or of attending lectures, there is the experience of meeting with men in whose hearts the Invisible has revealed himself and through whom his light shines in perfect purity-the mystery of the guru.
The ancient title guru is alas, too often sullied by being used lightly, if not sacriligiously. No one should use this word, let alone dare to call someone his guru, if he does not himself have the heart and soul of a disciple.

In fact it is as unusual to meet a real disciple as it is to meet a real guru. The Hindu tradition is right to say that when the disciple is ready, the guru will automatically appear: only those who are not yet worthy spend their time running after gurus.

The guru and the disciple form a couple, a pair of which the two elements attract one another and adhere to one another. As with the two poles they exist only in relationship to one another . . . A pair on the road to unity . . . A non-dual reciprocity in the final realization. . . .

The guru is most certainly not some master or professor, preacher, or spiritual guide, or director of souls who has learned from books or from other men what he, in his turn, is passing on to others. The guru is one who has himself first attained the Real and who knows from personal experience the way that leads there; he is capable of initiating the disciple and of making well up from within the heart of his disciple, the immediate ineffable experience, which is his own-the utterly transparent knowledge, so limpid and pure, that quite simply ‘he is’.

It is not in fact true that the mystery of the guru is the mystery of the depth of the heart? Is not the experience of being face to face with the guru, that of being face to face with ‘oneself’ in the most secret corner, with all pretence gone?

The meeting with the guru is the essential meeting, the decisive turning point in the life of a man. But it is a meeting that can only take place when one has gone beyond, in the fine point of the soul as the mystics say.

Human encounters do not exclude duality. In the deepest of them one can say there is a fusion and the two become one in love and desire, but in the meeting of the guru and disciple there is no longer even fusion, for we are on the plane of the original non-duality. Advaita remains for ever incomprehensible to him who has not first lived it existentially in his meeting with the guru.

What the guru says springs from the very heart of the disciple. It is not that another person is speaking to him. It is not a question of receiving from outside oneself new thoughts which are transmitted through the senses. When the vibrations of the master’s voice reach the disciple’s ear and the master’s eyes look deep into his then from the very depths of his being, from the newly discovered cave of his heart, thoughts well up which reveal him to himself.

What does it matter what words the guru uses? Their whole power lies in the listener’s response to them. Seeing or listening to the guru the disciple comes face to face with his true self in the depth of his being, an experience every man longs for, even if unconsciously.

When all is said and done, the true guru is he who, without the help of words, can enable the attentive soul to hear the “Thou art that”, Tat-tvam-asi of the Vedic rishis; and this true guru will appear in some outward form or other at the very moment when help is needed to leap over the final barrier. In this sense Arunachala was Ramana’s guru.

The only way of authentic spiritual communication is atmabhasha, the inner communication, the language of the atman spoken in the silence from which sprang the Word and audible in that silence alone.

Suddenly Vanya stopped in the midst of his story and, his heart filled with sadness, continued, ‘Do you now see why the word of Western preachers so seldom penetrates the Hindu soul? Yet the Christ whom they proclaim is the guru par excellence. His voice resounds throughout the world for those who have ears to hear and, more important still, he reveals himself in the secret cave of the heart of man! But when will their words and life witness convincingly to the fact that not only have they heard tell of that supreme guru but have themselves met him in the deepest depths of their souls?’

After a moment he said, ‘Such a meeting in depth is generally called darshana.’

Darshana is, etymologically speaking, vision. It is the coming face to face with the Real in a way that is possible to us in spite of our human frailty. There are philosophical darshana, the systems of the Thinkers which aim at making contact with the Real in the form of ideas. There is also the darshana of the sacred places or kshetra (4), of the Temples, and of holy images or murti, where the divinity who transcends all forms is willing to don the numerous forms invented by man’s imagination when set of fire by faith. Above all there is the darshana of holy men, the most meaningful of all for the man who is on the right wave length. The darshana of the guru is the last step on the path to the ultimate darshana, when the final veil is lifted and all duality transcended.

This is the absolute darshana, the one that India has sought since the beginning of time. Here India shows you her secret and, ‘revealing herself to you, reveals you to yourself in the most intimate depths of your being’.

The rishis of the Upanishads had already sung of the mystery of the guru:

Without learning it from another how could one
know that?
But to hear it from just any man is not sufficient,
Even should he repeat it a hundred or a thousand
times . . .
More subtle than the most subtle is that:
out of reach of all discussion . . .
Neither through reasoning, nor through the idea,
nor even through the simple recitation of the
Vedas, can one know it . . .
Worthy of admiration is he who speaks it,
Worthy of admiration is he who hears it,
Worthy of admiration is he who knows it having
been well taught.
(Katha Upanishad, 2)
The Brahmin who has investigated the riddle of the
Where Law and Rite hold sway,
loses all desire . . .
Nothing transient can lead to the intransient . . .
Renouncing the world and full of faith
he sets out in search of the master
who will reveal to him the secret of Brahman.
With thoughts controlled and his heart at peace
he receives the ultimate wisdom,
which reveals to him the True and Imperishable,
the Man (purusha) within!
(Mundaka Upanishad, 1-2)

Narada came and stood before Sanatkumara and said, ‘Master, teach me’.
‘First tell me what you know; then I shall know what to add.’
‘I know the Vedas, the Puranas and all the sciences. I have mastered the mantras, I am mantravid, but I am not atmavid, I do not know the atman, I do not know myself. Master I have heard tell that those who knew themselves were freed from suffering. I suffer and am restless; help me to pass beyond suffering.’
‘All that you have learned so far is but words.’
And Sanatkumara led Narada to know the secret of the self,
that infinite Fulness which exists only in the self, and is itself present everywhere, on all sides.
He enabled him to know the other side, that lies beyond the darkness.
(Chandogya Upanishad 7, I & 24ff)

All that I know I have imparted to you,
there is nothing more beyond!
-Thanks be to you, Pippalada, thanks be to you!
You truly are our father.
You have enabled us to reach the other side,
beyond ignorance!

(Prasna Upanishad 6)*
* NOTE: The quotations from the Upanishads found in this book are free ones and are not intended to be literally exact.
1 mantravid (knowledgeable of words, sayings, formulae or science)
2 mantravid: ?vid mfn. knowing sacred t?text G?S´rS. … the bounds or limits of morality and propriety, rule or custom, distinct law or definition Mn. MBh. …
3 atmavid’ (the knower of the Self puts an end to the sorrow)
4 Kshetra [kshetra]: temple; in Yoga, field of the body


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: