Students, devotees and disciples1

I would like, with your kind permission, to say a few words on students, devotees and disciples, and on Swamis, Masters and Gurus.

We all know that in the spiritual life, in the inner life, there are students, but who are these students? These students are those who read spiritual, religious, philosophical books and who attend lectures and classes by professors, philosophers and spiritual figures. Now, one cannot expect that these students will live the inner life, the life of the Spirit. What they do and what they say comes mostly from the mind, not from the heart. They belong to all schools, to all teachers, professors, philosophers and spiritual Masters. Unfortunately, they do not care for inner aspiration, inner awakening and inner spiritual realisation. A bit of mental satisfaction concerning the inner life and the spiritual life is enough, more than enough, for the students.

Devotees need not or may not have a particular spiritual guide or Guru. They can be admirers or adorers of a good many Masters at a time. They can also pray to many cosmic gods to help them in their day to day life. But unfortunately, they do not care for a personal spiritual guide, a Guru. Devotees try to follow the advice of many Masters in their inner life, but they do not have a permanent relationship with any particular spiritual teacher. They try to follow every spiritual Master. Unfortunately, this is not the correct approach to spirituality. One should not try to please all the Masters in the world. What one should try to do is learn or acquire everything that one individual Master has.

In the spiritual life, in the inner life, there is only one thing that is required, and that is Self-realisation or Self-discovery. If one has realised his own highest Self, then he has realised God, because God is the highest part inside each human being. The devotee is not loyal to any particular Master, and no particular Master is responsible for the devotee’s spiritual progress and illumination. The devotee cannot expect much from any particular spiritual Master, and the spiritual Master does not expect anything worthwhile from the devotee. Devotees can be said to be followers of quite a few Masters at a time.

Now we deal with disciples. A real, true disciple is the very breath of his spiritual Master. The disciple must feel that his Guru is the largest and most conscious part of his inner life as well as his outer life. Through the disciple the Guru sees, and through the Guru the disciple sees. For a real, dedicated, selfless disciple the Master is fully responsible at every moment. He has made a solemn promise to the Supreme that he will guide his real disciples, he will shape them, mould them and bring them to their destined Goal. Unless and until he has done that, he has not fulfilled his mission here on earth. Throughout Eternity the true disciples and the Master will remain faithful to each other.

In India we use the term lila, the divine Game. In the cosmic Game the Guru takes a special role to fulfil the Divine, and the disciple consciously serves the Guru unreservedly, to fulfil him in his mission. The disciple knows that in fulfilling the Guru he is fulfilling the Supreme Himself, for when the disciple enters into his highest consciousness he sees and feels that at each and every moment the Guru breathes in the same breath as the Supreme. The Guru will not and cannot do anything that is against the Will of the Supreme and, at the same time, he can do anything and everything for his disciple if so is the Will of the Supreme. Dearer than the dearest and sweeter than the sweetest is a true disciple to his Guru.

Now I would like to say a few words about the Swamis, Masters and Gurus. In India anybody is called a Swami who wears ochre clothes, shaves his head or adds ‘ananda’ to his name. Anybody who adds ‘ananda’, which means joy or delight, can be called a Swami. A Swami is supposed to renounce desires, attachments and earthly bondage, but whether he actually renounces these things or not is a matter between him and God. In the garb of the Swamihood, many people pass for holy men who are not even sincere aspirants. Unfortunately, there are millions of Swamis in India and all over the world who do not have even an iota of higher experiences, not to speak of Self-realisation or God-realisation. Of course, they too have their place in the divine Game. There are students who need this kind of teacher and who are greatly benefited by their presence. We have to see the capacity and sincerity of the aspirant as well as of the Swami. If an unrealised Swami tries to be the spiritual guide of a great aspirant, then needless to say, the seeker will drown in the sea of frustration.

Now the Masters. Master is a very varied and vast term. We can speak of Masters like Ramakrishna, Krishna, Buddha or Christ, who are all Masters of Humanity. But nowadays we use the term Master to mean any spiritual person with minor realisation, partial realisation or even with no realisation. But these so-called Masters, who are available now all over the world, cannot illumine the great mass of humanity. Each of these Masters belongs to a particular type of aspirant. If a sincere aspirant expects liberation or God-realisation from these Masters, then I must say that ninety-nine times out of hundred the disciple’s aspiration will end in frustration because most of these Masters do not have that capacity. Also, they do not accept their disciples as intimately as a real Guru does. Very often they work with the theory of mass production; they care for quantity and not for quality. If they have a great following around them, they are satisfied; they feel that their purpose is served.

Now finally we come to the Gurus. A Guru is a constant beggar. He goes to the Supreme with folded hands and says, “You have made me the messenger between earth and Heaven. You want me to work for You and for You alone, so please give me Your infinite Peace, Light, Bliss and Power.” The Supreme grants his prayer. Then he goes to his disciples with folded hands and prays to them, “Please give me your sufferings, your ignorance, your limitations and your death. Give me all that you have and all that you are.” This is his most ardent prayer to his disciples. Both times he is a beggar. He is fully responsible to the Supreme for what he does for his disciples and, at the same time, he is fully responsible to the disciples for what he does for them.

The Guru is the bridge between the disciple and God, the connecting link between the disciple and God, the hyphen between the disciple and God. God manifests himself directly and integrally through a real Guru for his disciples, and the disciples have every right to ask of the Guru what they need in their inner and spiritual life for their self-illumination and self-fulfilment. True disciples must offer what they have and what they are to the Guru at every moment. When the disciple reaches the highest, attains the deepest and feels the farthest in himself, when he attains to Self-realisation and becomes absolutely one with his Guru in his outer and inner consciousness, he then discovers the secret of secrets: he, the Guru and the Supreme are one.


  1. San Juan Sri Chinmoy Centre, 26 July 1967