Some time ago I came across this article written eighty years ago by an anonymous yogi of the Nath Pantha tradition setting forth the Nath Yogi view of the nature and function of a true (sat/sad) guru. Its explanation of what is a sadguru is so valuable that I have decided to present the salient points and comment on them here. The words in quotation marks come from the original article. Editor’s note.
There is a tremendous amount of mythology current in the world (including India) as to what constitutes a true guru. In the view of the original yogic tradition of the Nath Panth, the definition is very simple. A sadguru is someone who knows the way to the Real, the Sat, and can teach and guide those who are real mumukshus–seekers for liberation (moksha)–in the practice of the sadhana that leads to freedom in experience of the divine Self. They simply teach and answer the student’s questions, if any, and the work is done. That is the simple truth and simple reality of the matter. Anything else is exaggeration, superstition, falsehood and deception.
Tukaram about the aspirant and the guru
“Tuka says it is no use making haste. The proper time must arrive” (Tukaram).
“This proper time in the case of an aspirant on the spiritual path comes when his mind becomes prepared for being the recipient of knowledge.
“When he thus comes of age spiritually speaking, the sadguru merely points out to him the place where his own treasure has been hidden and thus enables him to realize himself. ‘Your treasure is very near you. Only you have forgotten the place where it is lying’ (Tukaram).”
This proper time in the case of an aspirant on the spiritual path comes when his mind becomes prepared for being the recipient of knowledge. The aspirant’s mind is ready for receiving the highest spiritual knowledge only when a marked degree of evolution–intellectual and spiritual–has been reached and stabilized so there will not be in the future either lack of inner growth and development, or future regression from it.
False gurus and false yogis abound, along with guru cults and yoga cults who are ready to recruit and claim the trust and loyalty of whomever they can attract, as we see all the time in the “yoga world.” But just as everything else in the world operates according to precise laws, so does the science of yoga. Those who are not evolved to the necessary level will fail–it is no way their fault. But it is the fault of those who teach them false yoga, so that they often fall into psychological delusions and suffer very real emotional damage. There is great danger for the unaware seeker of which he is never aware until the lightning has struck and the earthquake has destroyed. Rare indeed are those that can survive the ravages brought about by a false guru and false yoga practices.
When he thus comes of age spiritually speaking. The implication here is that a genuine sadguru perceives a person’s level of inner development and knows whether he is capable of taking up the yogic path and following it to the end–liberation of his spirit (moksha)–or whether he even truly wants to do so. Fake disciples are as common as fake gurus and fake yoga practices. They often come together in spiritual marriages made in hell. But a genuine sadguru teaches only those who are truly inwardly qualified, and avoids false “seekers” who really want nothing more than some spiritual drama in their life to catch the interest of themselves and others. There are genuine seekers, of course, but they must come to him. He never seeks disciples. This principle is an absolute. Those who seek disciples are frauds.
The sadguru merely points out to him the place where his own treasure has been hidden and thus enables him to realize himself. This is how simple it all is. The teacher tells the aspirant the way to go to enlightenment. That is, he gives instruction in the yogic process that will lead to the realization of his Self. He does not do it for the aspirant, nor does he somehow “confer grace” and make him capable of enlightenment. Nor does he claim that his power is working within the disciples when he meditates, or that he “has already done everything” for him. (The false guru slave-takers say a lot about grace, faith in the guru, and especially “surrender.”) A genuine guru does not claim to “empower” the disciple–that has already been done by God in eternity before he even came into relative existence. Rather, the true guru instructs him and answers any questions that may arise in the future. He imparts information and the disciple does everything for himself. As Jesus, himself a Nath Yogi, told his disciples: “Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know” (John 14:4).
Nath commentary on sadgurus
“Sadgurus never think that they have given to the disciple anything of their own nor do they consider that they have in any way heaped obligations on the disciple. On the contrary they feel as it were a sense of relief in having safely returned the deposit to the rightful owner, in having been freed from a heavy responsibility placed upon them by the divine will and in having thus done their duty. Sadgurus who fully know the divine laws have these characteristics.”
Sadgurus never think that they have given to the disciple anything of their own…. This is because a genuine yogi knows that he has nothing of his own to give: all comes from God, the Sole Source. And he, too, has come from God, as has the disciple. As eternal, immortal Selfs they are absolutely equals. Knowledge is the only thing that marks the guru from the disciple. So the guru immediately gives him that knowledge by which he will attain all further knowledge for himself.
…nor do they consider that they have in any way heaped obligations on the disciple. Actually it is just the opposite. As Sri Ishanath, whom the world knows as Jesus of Nazareth, said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). True sadgurus free the disciple, usually telling the disciple when he no longer has need of further contact with the sadguru. False gurus bind the disciple ever closer and tighter to himself, dominating his life in many ways beyond even the spiritual. They create in the disciple a terrible will-and-soul-destroying dependence on themselves, disempowering them utterly, making them feel that without the guru they are nothing. I personally know of disciples that because of this have committed suicide when their guru died. This is a far cry from the meaning of the upanishadic dictum Thou Art That (Tat Twam Asi), though “advaitic” fakes like to cite it.
On the contrary they feel as it were a sense of relief in having safely returned the deposit to the rightful owner,…. This is a most important statement. A genuine sadguru of the Nath Pantha knows that he is giving to the disciple what already rightfully belongs to him: Soham. For Soham has always been the essence of each sentient being. The dual movement of inhalation (So) and exhalation (Hum) is the very force that was with him in eternity. And that is what brought him into relative existence and which kept evolving him through countless ages by each breath.
Soham is the breath, the life, of each one of us: guru and disciple alike. So a sadguru knows he is simply showing to the disciple what he has possessed all along. He does not “give” him Soham, but reminds him of it by teaching him to join it with his breath–to begin doing consciously what he has been doing unconsciously all along throughout creation cycles. Soham is the truth, the sat, of his being, and he who reveals this to him is a sadguru. Just as a worthy parent looks for the day when his children will become adults and form their own independent lives, so the sadguru anticipates the day when all his obligations will have been fulfilled and the disciple will need nothing whatsoever from him thenceforth.
…in having been freed from a heavy responsibility placed upon them by the divine will and in having thus done their duty. To impart the knowledge of Soham sadhana to a qualified aspirant is the duty of anyone who knows it himself, having received it freely from his own sadguru. And the aspirant in turn becomes the sadguru of those he will likewise teach: not a god or master, but a friend. Jesus the Nath Yogi said to his disciples, “I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15).
Sadgurus who fully know the divine laws have these characteristics. A sadguru fully knows the divine laws of yoga and Self-realization. Therefore he does not just have one or some of these characteristics, he has all of them. He alone is a worthy sadguru according to the wisdom of the Nath Pantha.
There are other principles of the Nath Pantha regarding the sadguru in the article I have cited. Briefly stated, they are:
1) The sadguru is himself not the means to realize Brahman or the Self. The sadguru is never the means. Rather, the Soham sadhana he teaches to the disciple is the means and Brahman is the Goal. He merely imparts knowledge of the means, the way, to attain Brahmajnana or Brahmanishtha.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4.1) tells us that the Paramatman, the Supreme Self (Brahman), in the beginning said, “I am Soham [Soham asmi]” (1.4.1). This should sound familiar, because thousands of years after the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad was transmitted to the world, the Gospel of Saint John opened with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), which itself is a quotation, the original being: “In the beginning was Prajapati, and with him was the Word [Vak].” (Prajapati vai idam agra asit. Tasya vak dvitiya asit. Krishna Yajurveda, Kathaka Samhita, 12.5, 27.1; Krishna Yajurveda, Kathakapisthala Samhita, 42.1; Jaiminiya Brahmana II, Samaveda, 2244). Soham is the Word that was with–and is–the Supreme Brahman. In other words, Soham is Brahman in the form of Sound: Shabda Brahman.
2) The sadguru is never to be considered Brahman, as though he and Brahman are the same. They certainly are one, as are all sentient beings since they are part of the very Being of Brahman. But Brahman is infinite and they are finite. One, but not the same. This is an essential understanding.
3) “Now that Brahman, for attaining which so many efforts have to be made and troubles undergone, is pervading everywhere. It is inside as well as outside a human being. If so, then why should the human soul suffer so many agonies? Why should it be smothered in the vicious circle of births and deaths? The reason is that although Brahman is all-pervading, still It is of no use as It remains unknown. Hence moksha is not obtained by means of Brahman but it can be obtained only by the knowledge of Brahman. This knowledge of Brahman is imparted by a sadguru.” The knowledge of Brahman is not a matter of discourses on Brahman, but is the revealing of Soham and its requisite sadhana: continual Soham japa in time with the natural, spontaneous breath: intoning “So” while inhaling and “Ham” while exhaling.
4) “If the desire of an aspirant is really keen, the Supreme Self arranges for his meeting with a sadguru.” There is nothing wrong with an aspirant seeking for spiritual wisdom, but he should realize that it is the quality and intensity of his desire to find the path to liberation in Brahman which is the key to his success or failure. When his desire is right and his evolution sufficient, then the Absolute Itself brings about his encounter with a true sadguru. Obviously a sadguru is not going to be met with in some public or commercial enterprise such as a yoga retreat or public classes for which there is a fee. Wherever many people gather there is very little likelihood of even glimpsing a sadguru, much less learning from him.
5) “There are certain obstacles which prevent the attainment of the knowledge of the Self and until these obstacles are removed, there cannot be the rise of self-knowledge.” This can be understood in two ways, both of which are correct: a) that there can be no meeting with a sadguru until the aspirant himself has rid himself of all that stands in the way of his learning and successfully following the yogic path to the attainment of Atmajnana; b) if a sadguru is met by one whose life and mind contain these obstacles, the sadguru will either pass him by or will plainly tell him why and how he must correct himself, and the aspirant himself must do everything needed to qualify himself. The sadguru will give him no instruction until he does so.
6) Until the aspirant possesses the necessary qualifications, a sadguru is of no use to him, for the sadguru cannot help the unfit and incompetent.
“The power of saints is not of this kind. If they had such a power, they would have led the whole world to moksha, as they are full of compassion and cannot bear to see others unhappy.
“Vaman Pandit says in his Yathartha Deepika: ‘If the knowledge of Brahman could be granted to persons who are not fit for it, then saints who are full of compassion for all human beings, would have led all the three worlds to moksha.’ But such a thing is against the divine law.” Sentimentality and emotion simply cannot come into the matter. The law is truly divine, and like the divine cannot be changed or gotten around.
7) The various ways in which these gurus of the Nath Sampradaya are found by their disciples and lead them to the way of perfection are beyond comprehension.
The sum of all this is that “sadguru” means one who knows the way to the Real, the Sat, and who shows that way freely and without obligations to the qualified (adhikari) individual.
Editor’s note: Since the only thing the sadguru really does is tell the aspirant how to practice Soham sadhana, in a sense any means by which this knowledge is imparted is his “sadguru,” including this book. Furthermore, the Nath Pantha teaches that the ultimate guru is the aspirant’s own Self.