The Importance of Obeying One's Guru, part two

Bodhinatha continues with part two of his talk on obeying the guru. He describes the meaning of obedience and how it involves acceptance and intelligent cooperation. He reads sections from our monastic order's vow book on the vow of obedience and tells a related story about Yogaswami and his guru Chellappaswami.

Unedited Transcript:

We continue on our talk for New Delhi, Swaminarayan group. Those who weren't here for the first part we have an invitation from the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha to be present and give a talk at the opening of their very very large center in New Delhi. And the celebration is a month long and we're there during the last week of it which is set aside for foreign dignitaries. So there'll be more English speaking people there the week that we're there. So we're scheduled to give a talk and they've asked for "The Importance of Obeying One's Guru." It's because Gurudeva gave a famous talk to them on that subject in 1995 in Bombay at their leader's, Pramukh Swami's birthday party. Something like thirty thousand people attending that birthday party. They like to do things on a large scale. [laughs]

So, I think they anticipate just a small crowd of ten thousand when I give this talk so plus you know, I think national television coverage possibly, so the editing team went over this very carefully. So, see where we were here.

So we talked about the guru and that. So here's a good, I think we, these last couple of paragraphs we read but we can read them again it gives good continuity. So Gurudeva gave them three suggestions at that talk: obey your guru, obey your guru, and obey your guru. Those were his three suggestions. So my talk mentions that then it goes on in this way.

Let's look more closely at exactly what it means to obey the guru. The basic way to be obedient is to strictly follow the general principles taught by the guru. These are traditionally found in the scriptures of the lineage, such as the verses of the Shikshapatri. These 212 verses are certainly comprehensive in covering all aspects of life and Swaminarayan followers are indeed fortunate to have such a clear set of principles laid out to follow in this "Code of Precepts." You may be interested to know that the Shikshapatri inspired our Gurudeva to develop a similar scripture for his monks and families. It consisted of 365 verses, one for each day of the year, and is called the Nandinatha Sutras. These sutras now guide our sampradaya, just as the Shikshapatri guides BAPS.

The importance of obeying the rules of the Shikshapatri is stated by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in verses 205 and 206: "Hence, all My disciples shall observe all the rules laid down in this Shikshapatri and shall never follow the whims of the lower instincts. Those of My disciples who shall live in accordance with the precepts laid down here shall attain all the four desired objects (Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha) on earth."

A second form of obedience is to follow any personal advice given to us by the guru. Some Hindus select a guru who is no longer living. They place his picture on their wall and altar and study his writings. I call this a safe guru because he will never ask you to do something you do not want to do; whereas, a living guru will, in fact, quite often ask you to do exactly what you do not want to do. Being obedient and doing what the satguru has requested may prove to be quite challenging. However, in accomplishing the task you will have made progress on the spiritual path, for he sees, better than you do, the karmas of your life and how you can overcome them.

Let's take as an example a disciple who is quite shy of public speaking. This shyness is based upon a few experiences in school in which he did very poorly in speaking in front of his class. These experiences convince him that others are better than he is. It would be natural for the guru to ask him to do that very thing--for example, to speak in front of a large satsang group every week until he overcomes his shyness of speaking in public. These positive accomplishments improve his self-concept to the point where he realizes he is neither greater nor lesser than anyone else because, in truth, he is the divine being within him. He is not the outer personality, the ego. Rather, he is the inner soul. This change would not have occurred if he had not, if he did not have a living satguru directing him to do exactly what he was least inclined to do.

In verse II-51 of the Vachanamrut Bhagwan Swaminarayan stresses the importance of following the commands of the guru.

"Only one who follows the commands of the Satpurush can be said to be under the influence of favorable circumstances. To deviate from those commands is the very definition of adverse circumstances. Therefore, only one who follows the commands of the Satpurush is behaving as the atma."

Obedience is a word that does not fall easily from most people's tongues in these modern times. But it is an essential quality of good character, and we should not be afraid of the idea, even if others are. In truth, obedience is the guiding principle of families, businesses, peace-keeping forces and, of course, spiritual institutions all around the world, of every faith. Obedience is one of the five vows that all monks of our Yoga Order take. Let me share with you three excerpts from Gurudeva's description of the vow of obedience. Each elucidates a different dimension of this virtue: "Obedience is the state of willingness and cooperation in which the soul remains open and amenable to enlightened direction. For the devotee it is an unbroken pledge of trust in and surrender to the satguru, the guru parampara and the mystic process of spiritual evolution. Obedience does not consist in blind submission and yielding to authority, nor in weakening our own will that it may be dominated by the will of another. Yet it is, in another sense, submission to a sacred purpose and the divine authority of the inner worlds. It is, for the devotee, an inner quality that allows one to remain consciously tractable and responsive. At those times when the instinctive nature looms strong and there arises a sense of 'I' and 'mine,' obedience is a surrendering of the ego to the soul or the instinctive nature to the spiritual nature. As long as the ego dominates the life of man, he will experience obedience as capitulation or subjection. As the soul unfolds further, obedience is perceived as the union of minds and purpose, a state of harmony so complete that there can exist no distinction between him who gives and him who receives instruction or direction. True obedience is based on agreement, trust and knowledge, as opposed to passive servility, nonresistance or domination which have ignorance and fear as their basis."

There is a story from our guru parampara I would like to share that illustrates this concept of obedience. It occurred when our paramaguru, Yogaswami, was still being trained by his guru, Chellappaswami. The year was around 1905, a century ago. Amidst a festival crowd at a large temple Chellappaswami told him , "Go within; meditate; stay here until I return." Chellappaswami came back three days later to find Yogawami still waiting for him to return. A soul of lesser dedication would have rationalized that Chellappaswami had forgotten about him and therefore it was all right to leave, return home and have a meal and sleep. Yogaswami, however, dutifully complied with his guru's instructions to wait until he returned, even though staying there for three days was a clear hardship and he had no idea when the guru would return.

Turning to the vow of obedience, I would like to quote again from our sadhus' vows which describe how the devotee, how the devotee can work his mind closely with the mind of his satguru. "Obedience may be defined as wisdom in handling directions and instructions. The devotee must learn to work closely with the mind of his satguru, seeking to bring his awareness ever closer to that of his preceptor. He must work to learn the art of accepting direction, whether expressed or implied, and fulfilling it beyond the expectations of his satguru. He must remain open to change, never allowing his mind to become so inflexible, so settled in its ways, that it cannot respond. He must take upon himself the responsibility for clarifying directions that are not clear, never executing directions thoughtlessly and then casting blame on those who made them. He must respond with a full heart, never subtly resisting directions he has received. He must respond quickly and with full energy, never using delay or lethargy as a means of opposing or impeding authority, for even delay and resistance are forms of disobedience. He must always seek agreement and a merging of minds with his fellow devotees, never supporting or sustaining contention or disagreement, or stubbornly clinging to an opposite point of view."

My guru often stressed the difference between intelligent cooperation and blind obedience. He stated it like this: "We must remember that blind obedience is never the spiritual way. It is intelligent cooperation that is the binding force in a well-run ashram. Intelligent cooperation means obtaining an extremely clear understanding of what is requested to be done before proceeding. Often this requires asking questions, discussing the direction or project, as one would do in a modern corporation, then, once all is understood, making the leader's direction your own direction. This is intelligent cooperation, not blind obedience."

Let me share a third and final section of the vow of obedience that gives suggestions on how to cultivate, meaning nurture, obedience. "The devotee cultivates obedience through faithfully following the customs of his lineage. He cultivates obedience through listening carefully to directions he may receive and then carrying out those directions without changing them to suit his own preferences or perceptions. He cultivates obedience by conscientiously following not only overt instructions, but those subtle unspoken directions that may come from his satguru, senior sadhus and his own conscience. He cultivates obedience through neither forgetting nor neglecting instructions even years later. He cultivates obedience by contemplating, in the absence of instructions, what his satguru would do or expect of him, and not taking such instances as opportunities to express his own ideas. He cultivates obedience by being loyal to his spiritual heritage and customs, holding fast to the ancient wisdom."

What is the right thing to do in the absence of instructions from the satguru? Some devotees would look at this as an opportunity to express and act upon their own viewpoints. That approach, if followed by a group of devotees, would lead to each expressing his or her own personal opinion and therefore could lead to serious disagreements between the members of the group. This scenario is totally avoided when each devotee in the group seeks to determine what his satguru would do or expect him to do if he were physically present.

In conclusion, having a living satguru provides the devotee with an opportunity to make significant spiritual progress in a single lifetime. However, as we previously mentioned, this progress is not automatic. It only occurs when the devotee is strictly obedient to the general rules of conduct of the lineage and follows carefully and fulfills in the right spirit all personal instruction received from the satguru.

Then there's a paragraph just for them.

How fortunate you all are in having a satguru such as Swamishri. He attends to all the details of your life. He responds personally, in his own handwritten notes, to every letter and question you send to him. How rare a soul he is to love you so deeply. You can thank him in three ways: (What do you think they are?) obey your guru, obey your guru, obey your guru. Right.

So that's the second half, be interesting to see what all the response is. I think it'll be good.

So I think the talk points out quite nicely many of the subtleties of obeying the guru. I like the one about not blind obedience I think that's very, very useful because sometimes the concept we get, you know possibly from something we read in a book somewhere is: the guru tells you to do something and you don't even think about it really you just go do it. The guru says: "Go jump off a cliff" you go jump off a cliff or something. You know he asked me to jump off a cliff. So Gurudeva says: No, that's not the fullness of the concept you know, if we don't understand an instruction we should ask. Of course asking means asking at the proper time and the proper way. You know for example, if the guru is giving a talk, something inspired and says something, and then the middle of it you ask a question you can lose the whole inspiration, lose the whole vibration of the talk. By asking a question at the wrong time so that's also a part of the sensitivity. We need to, if we don't understand something, Gurudeva's saying we need to ask. But what wasn't mentioned there is you have to ask at a good time and in an appropriate way. Can't ask at the wrong time and you can't ask with the wrong attitude. A critical attitude or antagonistic attitude.

So it's similar idea. I was thinking about this in another context some, sometimes we think if an idea is right, if our concept is right, then we're right. You know but I like to say: well you have to be right three times not just one time. So what are the other two times? Well you have the right idea but you have to express it in the right way at the right time. You have to be right three times in order to really be right. To have the right idea, express it at the wrong time or in the wrong way, obviously it doesn't work out. So then you have to figure out how to be right three times, not just once. And then, then it all works out in a nice way. So, that's a thought for the day, a wonderful phase. And we're going off to California aren't we day after, no it's tomorrow, tomorrow right? Leaving tomorrow for California. First time to San Diego for an event. Everyone down there is really high, you know happy jumping up and down. Then we're going up to the, that's for Friday and Saturday, we're having a satsang on Friday and then a donor appreciation reception we call it for lunch on Saturday. Then flying up to San Francisco Saturday evening early and then Sunday we have satsang and then a donor reception in the late afternoon in Sausalito. It's a very nice place right on the bay there, you look out the window and you see the bay and boats, sailing boats sailing by and so forth, very attractive.

Aum Namah Sivaya

[End of transcript]

Photo of  Gurudeva
In the final analysis, we are all doing exactly as we want, as we must, doing what is next on our personal path of evolution. Nothing is wrong. Nothing should be that is not.