The office of the Guru, the spiritual teacher and guide, held sacred and revered in the ancient Eastern tradition, has its basis in the immutable occult laws. These laws of the higher life govern the Guru-Disciple relationship which neither of them can violate in the least degree without harm coming to both. Unfortunately many misconceptions prevail concerning the office of the Guru. Of late, following an upsurge of interest in ancient Eastern Wisdom and practices all over the world, hundreds of thousands of people are seeking spiritual instruction, and to meet the demand many claiming to be teachers and guides—either self-proclaimed or so regarded by their followers—have appeared to instruct and guide the seekers. While some of them, well-meaning and sincere, proceeding on the basis of traditional exoteric religion, have in a way benefited the seekers, there are many others who, being themselves misguided, are leading their trusting followers in the wrong direction with questionable doctrines and practices which cannot but be detrimental to both in the long run. Such a state of affairs would not have arisen had there been a greater diffusion of knowledge concerning the laws of nature which govern the office of the great Teachers of humanity and their relation to the seekers of Truth. It was part of the mission of the Theosophical Movement to revive this age-old knowledge to meet the needs of the spiritual aspirants of modern times.
Who is a true Guru capable of leading aspirants to the Temple of Truth? What are his qualifications? Where can one find him and how may he be recognized?
The real Guru is always an Adept in Occult Science. A man of profound knowledge, exoteric and esoteric, especially the latter, and one who has brought his carnal nature under subjection of the WILL; who has developed in himself both the power (siddhi) to control the forces of nature, and the capacity to probe her secrets by the help of latent but now active powers of his being: this is the real Guru. (Theosophical Articles by H.P.B., Vol. I, p. 308)
Such a Mahatma is a rare efflorescence of an age, the fruition of his own incessant self-sacrificing labour for the highest good of humanity with which he has completely identified himself. He has become an inseparable, immortal part of and a conscious co-worker with divine nature. Even as he is fulfilling his duties in the governance of the world, and himself progressing further into yet higher stages of universal life which is infinite, his heart is full of compassion for the world of deluded mortals. The sole motive of the members of the Fraternity of such Adepts is to labour constantly for the enlightenment of their less progressed brethren even by subjecting themselves to the limitations, pains and sorrows of bodily life on earth. But the great Gurus, free as they are from the cycle of birth and death and living immortal as they do in Spirit, having merged their entire self with their Divine Self, the sixth and seventh principles, are yet subject to Cosmic and Karmic laws which they will not and cannot violate. Their work for humanity is governed by these laws.
It is often asked why the Mahatmas with their superhuman knowledge and powers do not openly appear among men, establish schools of instruction and dispel once and for all the darkness of the world by the light of their knowledge and wisdom. They cannot so act because humanity is governed by the laws of Karma and spiritual evolution to which the Masters of Wisdom are also subject and which even they cannot violate in the least. The basic law of human progress in the higher life is that man has to advance by his own efforts, by self-induced and self-devised ways and means. He is compelled to become the master of his own destiny, to take his evolution in his own hands, to exercise his free will and make moral choices between right and wrong, good and evil, according to his own deepest perceptions and highest light of understanding of the spiritual ideal which the Guru represents and embodies, and learn in the school of life the lessons the rigid justice of Karma brings him.
It is generally believed that the Guru by his grace can confer knowledge and powers on the disciple and give him spiritual birth. All that the Guru can do is to show to the seeker where the Truth lies, the path that leads to it and how to reach that path. Such instructions are found in abundance in the public teachings of the Masters, as in the Bhagavad-Gita, Dhammapada, etc. The Theosophical Movement, inspired by the Mahatmas, brought to the modern world rich instructions and new insights on questions that are of invaluable help to the aspirants. The would-be disciple has to put into practice the precepts and accomplish the inner purification and transformation by his own exertions before he can hope to see his guru face to face. Self-reliance and self-effort is the key.
There is a law of nature which insists that a man shall read these mysteries for himself. By no other method can he obtain them. A man who desires to live must eat his food himself: this is the simple law of nature—which applies also to the higher life. A man who would live and act in it cannot be fed like a babe with a spoon; he must eat for himself. (Light on the Path, p. 30)
Truth is everywhere, in everything, in everyone, for Absolute Truth is the source and the true Self of all beings. Hence the Teachers say that there is a natural melody in life, a fount of harmony in every human heart, though the mortal outer man may not perceive it. The whole discipline of spiritual development of a devotee consists in so purifying and spiritualizing his mortal envelope as to let the Light of his own Spirit shine through him. This can only be accomplished by his surrendering the personal self to the behests of his Divine Self within, and making the latter absolutely his Inner Ruler. The student has to conquer his selfishness, all the lower tendencies and emotions and passions by the aid of his Higher Self. It is only when the lower mind is thoroughly purified of Kama and the motive wholly pure that it can faithfully reflect the Divine Ego within and merge with it.
Theosophical teachers say that this self-conquest and self-purification has to be achieved by the student unaided, at least partially, before the Guru can help him or approach him. It is not difficult to see the reasonableness of the proposition. The ruffled surface of the waters of a lake can so distort the image of the objects it reflects as to be unrecognizable. The fresh waters of the mountain stream cannot mingle with the muddy torrents of the monsoon storm and remain pure. So also a mind full of preconceptions and prejudices, passions and desires, is unfit for the reception of Divine Truth. Absolute harmony reigns in the spiritual realms which cannot be entered into by man if there is the slightest trace of discord or disharmony in him. Lower self—man of the world—actuated by selfish impulses is full of discord. Hence unless the student purifies his whole nature of all selfishness, surrenders entirely the impulse of asserting his personal rights, conquers the instinct of self-defence or self-preservation, and thoroughly purges his self of all vices and defects and becomes as pure as a child, the Guru cannot take him in his hands.
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew, XVIII, 3)
Of course, such a process of self-purification is not the work of a day or even years but extends over a series of lives. Hence it is said in the Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter VII): "Among thousands of mortals a single one perhaps strives for perfection, and among those so striving perhaps a single one knows me as I am."
The task of the student-aspirant, therefore, is to regenerate himself and furnish the requisite conditions by his own exertions. When the materials are ready the architect shall appear.
Even those who are accepted as disciples by the great Gurus are left entirely to their own devices most of the time after being shown the path they have to tread. The Guru cannot push or drag the student forward; he only adjusts the student in his progress. Whether the disciple succeeds or fails after his discipleship is accepted by the Master depends entirely on the disciple himself. Absolute unselfishness of motive and absolute devotion to the Master and Great Cause he serves—which is redemption and emancipation of all conditioned beings—are the sine qua non qualifications for successful discipleship.