The guru-disciple relationship: Lessons from Yoga Vashistha

                     Guru-Shishya Relationship as the way to transcend the barrier

       The script is taken from Yoga Vashishtha, written by Sage Valmiki. It is the spiritual teaching imparted by Sage Vashishtha to Sri Rama assimilated in six stages:

  1. Vairagya:  distaste for all worldly objects and pleasures.
  2. Mumukshu:intense desire for Self-realization for changing the quality of the desires from worldly to spiritual.
  3. Utpatti: origins of the world-how those outside objects are identified in the mind.
  4. Sthiti:sustaining himself in the Self: spiritual enlightenment.
  5. Upasana: the deep peace that emerged from  spiritual enlightenment.
  6. Nirvana:  the final liberation.

 Until one cuts that identification with and desire for worldly objects, that fogginess will remain. Not until the fogginess disappears will mental clarity prevail and will one be able to evaluate, analyze and reflect on what the true aspiration is. While we are involved in that desire, we cannot see what the real aspirations are and what we really want to obtain, and there will be no real transformation in the quality of that desire. Once there is clarity, then comes Mumukshu Prakarana, which is changing the quality of that desire to a higher nature, which is Self-realization. No matter how much water you pour in, no matter how deep you go in that dream, the basket will always remain empty. That is the transitory, short term and temporary nature of the happiness and contentment derived from worldly objects. This waking up from the dream, which is described in Yoga Vashishtha, is the opening of the third eye. The third eye is a symbol, which represents discrimination, wisdom. It is that discrimination and wisdom which ultimately leads one to the experience of Vairagya, of dispassion. Discrimination means knowing what is right and what is wrong, being able to differentiate and to guide one’s life and efforts towards something everlasting, not something temporary which will disappear the moment you touch it. Applying that discrimination then becomes dispassion. Dispassion is not something that can be applied as an intellectual concept; rather it is a gradual process of transformation of the mind and of the nature of the mind, transformation of the desires and the quality of these desires. So, Yoga Vashishtha describes the spiritual aim as being the waking up from that dream that we are going through. Some stories depict these stages with hidden lessons.


  • Sutikshna and Agastya: A modest Brahmin named Sutikshna who has gone to his guru, Sage Agastya, for spiritual guidance. “Tell me, is it the performance of one’s duty that will lead one to liberation, to nirvana, to moksha, or is it the renunciation of everything, going to the Himalayas and forgetting everybody and everything?” Sage Agastya replied, “Just as a bird flies on two wings, in the same way the aspirant flies up to the goal of self-realization, to liberation, on the two wings of karma and wisdom. So it is neither one nor the other but the blending of the two. That is the art which one has to learn to evolve in spiritual life.” Seeing that Sutikshna was still confused, Agastya said, “I will tell you another story to help you understand better.”
  • Agnivesya and Karunya: The second story is about Karunya and his father Agnivesya. Karunya who went to the Gurukul at an early age and mastered the Vedas and the Puranas and became a very knowledgeable person. “I have been studying all this time, but still I have one question. It is mentioned in the scriptures that one will attain liberation, that one will free oneself from the cycle of births and deaths, through the performance of one’s duties. But at the same time it says that only through renunciation will one attain this freedom. So what should one do?” Agnivesya replied, “I will tell you a story which will help you to understand this point perfectly.”
  • Suruchi and Devadutta: So here is the third story, and the dialogue between Sage Vashishtha and Sri Rama has still not yet begun. Agnivesya began, “Once upon a time a beautiful damsel named Suruchi was sitting on a mountain peak in the Himalayas, reflecting on life. All of a sudden she saw a messenger of Lord Indra’s flying by, so she called him and asked, “Where are you going?” He replied, “That is a very good question, let me tell you a story.”
  • Devadutta and Arishtanemi: Once upon a time there was a king named Arishtanemi. After having performed his kingly duties and having ruled the kingdom with authority, according to the scriptures, he had retired and passed on his kingdom to his son. For hundreds and hundreds of years he had practiced severe austerities and meditations in the forest. Lord Indra was so impressed that he sent his messenger Devadutta to invite Arishtanemi to the heavens. So Devadutta went off in a chariot full of the most beautiful damsels and the most learned scholars to invite King Arishtanemi on a first class flight to the heavens. “Tell me what kind of fruits I will enjoy from these karmas in the heavens?” Devadatta replied, “According to the karmas one has performed in one’s life, the quality of the fruit will vary. Due to this variety, there is jealousy amongst the enjoyers of the fruits. Therefore, once the bonus is consumed, you have to go back and pass through another stage of birth.” King Arishtanemi said very firmly, “No, I am not going with you. I am performing these austerities to experience everlasting happiness and peace within, and to know that source, not to go through the same thing. Therefore, I’m not going with you.”
  • Arishtanemi and Valmiki: So Devadutta returned in an empty flight, first class, and told Lord Indra what Arishtanemi had said. Lord Indra said, “Go back and take him to Sage Valmiki. Devadutta took King Arishtanemi to Sage Valmiki and when Arishtanemi saw Valmiki, he understood that he had come to the right place. He said, “I wish you to instruct and guide me, so that I can become free from these sorrows and miseries which I am unable to separate myself from alone.” At this point, Sage Valmiki begins to tell King Arishtanemi the story of Yoga Vashishtha, the dialogue between Sage Vashishtha and Sri Rama.


  • From intellect to intuition: So the introduction to Vairagya contains many stories within stories. These stories have a two-fold meaning. There is always a superficial meaning and at another level a more spiritual and deeper understanding. In the first story Sutikshna approaches Agastya for spiritual guidance. Sutikshna means subtle, sharp, and Agastya means the effulgent sun. The movement of Sutikshna towards Sage Agastya represents the move of the intellect towards intuition. An aspirant with the ability to move from intellect to intuition is considered to be the highest type of aspirant.
  • The scriptures say that intellect is considered to be a barrier in spiritual life, but this has to be understood properly. As the absence of intellect is not the key to overcoming this barrier, the key has to be something associated with intellect. Intellect begins with the letter ‘I’. The purpose of intellect is also to serve ‘I’, so if intellect is not the barrier directly, it is this ‘I-ness’ associated with the intellect, which becomes the barrier. Intellect and ego, ‘I-ness’, have a very intimate relationship, even more intimate than the relationship between a husband and wife. The way to transcend this barrier is therefore not to create an absence of intellect, but to change the purpose and application of intellect. Instead of applying the intellect for ourselves, we apply the intellect for others.


        “The guru-disciple relationship is  the way to transcend this barrier”.

  • In all these stories there is a guru and a disciple. In the guru-disciple relationship there is acceptance, faith and surrender: one is undergoing training, one is ‘in-tuition’. This ability to move from intellect to intuition is considered to be a quality of the highest type of aspirant, because while letting go of family and possessions is not considered so difficult, letting go of that ‘I-ness’ is considered to be one of the toughest and rarest abilities.



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