One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
“A time comes when the seeker goes through a period of argumentation with herself and cannot decide. At this time a real preceptor is needed. How will you find the right master? No one can search for a preceptor. There is a saying in the scriptures: "When the disciple is prepared, the master appears." This happens only because of samskaras. Teacher and student samskaras are very ancient and strong.
If you are not prepared, he will be there, but you won’t notice or respond. If you do not know what a diamond is, the diamond may be there, but you ignore it and pass it by, taking it to be just a piece of glass. Further, if you do not know the difference, you may acquire a piece of glass, think that it is a diamond, and cherish it your whole life.
A genuine spiritual teacher, one who is assigned to teach according to tradition, searches out good students. He looks for certain signs and symptoms; he wants to know who is prepared. No student can fool a master. The master easily perceives how well the student is prepared. If he finds that the student is not yet ready, he will gradually prepare him for the higher teachings. When the wick and oil are properly prepared, the master lights the lamp. That is his role. The resulting light is divine.
You need someone who can guide and help you. You need an external guru as a means to attain the guru within you. Sometimes you may become egotistical and decide that you don’t need a guru. That is just ego talking.
You will never meet a bad guru if you are a good student. The reverse is also true; if you are a bad student, you won’t meet a good guru. Why should a good guru assume responsibility for a bad student? Nobody collects garbage. If you are in search of a guru, search within first. To become a yogi means to know your own condition here and now, to work with yourself. Don’t grumble because you don’t have a teacher. Ask whether you deserve one. Are you capable of attracting a teacher? Are you prepared to be guided?
There is a vast difference between an ordinary teacher and a spiritual master or guru. That which dispels the darkness of ignorance is called guru. In the West the word guru is often misused. In India this word is used with reverence and is always associated with holiness and the highest wisdom. It is a very sacred word. It is seldom used by itself, but always with its suffix, deva. Deva means "bright being." An enlightened master or guru is called gurudeva.
When a student goes to a guru, he takes a bundle of dry sticks. With reverence and love he bows and says, "Here, I offer this." That indicates that he is surrendering himself with all his mind, action, and speech with a single desire to attain the highest wisdom.
The guru burns those sticks and says, "Now I will guide you and protect you in the future." Then he initiates the student on various levels and gives him the disciplines to practice. The guru imparts a word and says, "This will be an eternal friend to you. Remember this word. It will help you." Then he explains how to use the mantra. That is called mantra initiation.
You may try your best to do something for him, but you cannot, because he doesn’t need anything. You wonder, "Why is he doing so much for me? What does he want from me?"
He wants nothing, for what he is doing is his duty, the purpose of his life. If he guides you, he is not obliging you; he is doing his work. He cannot live without doing his duty. Genuine gurus cannot live without selflessness, for selfless love is the very basis of their enlightenment. They radiate life and light from the unknown corners of the world. The world does not know them, and they do not want recognition.
Such people are called gurus. They guide humanity. As the sun shines and lives far above, the guru gives spiritual love and remains unattached.
Guru is not a physical being. Those who think of the guru as a body or as a man do not understand this pious word. If a guru comes to think that his power is his own, then he is a guide no more. The guru is tradition, he is a stream of knowledge. That stream of knowledge goes through many channels. Christ also said this when he healed people: "This is because of my Father; I am only a channel."
A guru should receive your love and respect. If my guru and the Lord both come together, I will go to my guru first and say, "Thank you very much. You have introduced me to the Lord." I will not go to the Lord and say, "Thank you very much, Lord. You have given me my guru."
The master’s ways of teaching are many and sometimes mysterious. He teaches through speech and actions, but in some cases he may teach without any verbal communication at all. The most important teachings have their source in intuition and are beyond the powers of verbal communication.
It is a great joy, perhaps the greatest day for a seeker, when she or he meets her/his beloved Master, who is totally selfless and loving like an ocean of bliss, overflowing with love all the time.
Search for the guru within yourself and anyone who leads you to your inner guru is your guru.”
- Swami Rama in The Essence of Spiritual Life, pages 96-99