The guru-sishya (master-disciple) relationship is integral to Hinduism. It is not only crucial to spirituality, but in all areas of life. For example, an Indian classical musician readily accepts a guru to become a competent musician. Self-perseverance alone is not sufficient. In the United States, where I reside, independence and self-perseverance are the elements that one believes will lead to success. Yet, with this mentality, one rides the tumultuous waves of success, happiness, failure and misery. Life from this perspective is unstable and feels out of our control despite all of our efforts.
Although the guru-shishya relationship is largely a foreign concept in the United States, it is still a part of life whether one likes it or not. Everyone is a servant of someone at a higher position, be it parents, teachers, bosses, coaches, etc. It is an inescapable part of human life. But the inclination is to resist authority and become the master of one’s domain. This is futile and leads to frustration. At the very base level, people are servants to their senses (indriyas) and mind. But such service leads to dissatisfaction, as the senses always ask for more. The solution is to serve a guru who will cleanse the senses and the mind with divinity and bring about peace and fulfilment. The Brahmaswarup Guru, not the senses, will now be in charge. Mahant Swami Maharaj is this current guru.
Hinduism teaches that being a servant and accepting a guru is humanity’s dharma, or inherent nature. In the United States, capitalism is based on competition, and if one works hard enough by one’s own will, one can become the CEO of a fortune 500 company. However, due to the dharma to be a servant, one can see that even a big CEO is still subservient to someone else. Such CEOs will be at the mercy of investors and the stock market, for example. In the United States, people generally believe that to be one’s own boss will lead to happiness. But that is not always true.
The point here is that it is human dharma, or inherent human nature to be subservient. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjun achieved true knowledge and happiness only when he totally surrendered to Shri Krishna and gave up his false sense of free will. Arjun put complete faith and trust in Shri Krishna.
The guru-sishya ethos and the attitude of humble service permeates Indian culture. India is known for hospitality. Whether it is in hotels, homes or shops on the street, I have experienced the humble kindness of the Indian people first-hand. The Indian people are ready to serve with the belief that the guest is a god, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava.’ BAPS gurus teach ‘Das na Das’, meaning ‘servant of a servant’. Yet, the attitude of such humble service is not as prevalent in the United States. One can see how reluctant customer service workers are to serve customers. Customers are also to blame, bringing a sense of entitlement that they must be served. This is the inverse of ‘Das na Das’ and leads to anger, conflict and stress.
The ego dictates to us that we are in control and entitled to the pleasures and luxuries of the material world. Giving up the ego and surrendering to the guru will bring relief from such stress and misery. BAPS gurus have always taught that Bhagwan Swaminarayan is ‘sarva karta’ or ‘the all-doer’. Stress comes from not getting the expected results of one’s labour. Stress and anger are at epidemic levels in the United States and cause serious mental and physical health problems. Bhagwan Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad Gita that only God gives the fruits of one’s work and one should not be attached to such fruits. Knowing this can bring peace of mind. The attitude that whatever happens is Bhagwan’s will brings contentment. After Arjun accepted Shri Krishna completely, Shri Krishna took the reigns of the chariot during the battle of Kurukshetra.
Satsang Diksha shloka 152 elaborates on this point: “One should understand that all which has happened, which is happening, and which will happen is solely due to Swaminarayan Bhagwan’s will and only for my benefit.” In this way, when we fully accept the guru, we understand that Bhagwan is in total control. This lifts life’s burdens from our shoulders.
In the United States many have conflicts with their bosses at work. One finds so many flaws and imperfections in one’s boss, which leads to disrespect and an unhealthy work environment. This is also the case in schools. Many students do not respect teachers because they do not want to be told what to do by someone with imperfections and flaws.
In Hinduism obedience to a guru is absolutely essential to happiness and success. One of the most important teachings is to never see flaws in one’s guru. This is especially important in BAPS, and accepting the Pragat Brahmaswarup Guru, who is presently Mahant Swami Maharaj, is critical for spiritual progress. The Pragat Brahmaswarup Guru is Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s choicest servant (Akshar), is flawless and fully divine. He displays human qualities and apparent flaws to relate to the common people and become accessible to them. His divine peace comes from total mastery over his mind and indriyas. He is not God, but always remains a servant of God. He is completely egoless. Bhagwan Krishna teaches in the Bhagavad Gita that anger, greed and lust are the gateways to the bottomless pits of misery. Thus, the Brahmaswarup Guru fully embodies nishkam (non-lust), niswad (non-taste), nisneh (non-attachment), nirlobh (non-greed), and nirman (non-ego). When we encounter this true guru, we begin to imbibe these qualities.
If someone so spiritually elevated as the Pragat Brahmaswarup Guru is eternally a servant of God, what to say of us common human beings? It is our nature to serve, and the source of our unhappiness is that we are serving imperfect bosses, teachers, etc. while thinking we are masters. But once we accept the Brahmaswarup Guru, we begin to see divine qualities in everyone. We learn that Bhagwan resides within all. Thus, the guru teaches us not to find flaws in others. In this way, everyone becomes elevated to a divine platform and we develop servitude to all.
More and more westerners are seeking out Hindu gurus, as they are dissatisfied with the western competitive, stressful lifestyle. I have accepted Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj and now Pragat Brahmaswarup Mahant Swami Maharaj as my gurus and am catching glimpses of spiritual happiness in my life. Being a Hindu in the US has its challenges. Many spaces of the country are devoid of Hindu culture. In India, mandirs are on every corner, and thus one is continuously reminded of Bhagwan. In the US, we have the challenge to be much more disciplined. We can make our homes a mandir, but need to follow a strict set of practices, as would a mandir pujari. Ultimately, we need to realize Bhagwan is within. We practise to become brahmarup and not succumb to outside situations and challenges no matter where we are in the world. Our minds should be completely stable no matter what the situation. Simply remembering experiences (smruti) with our guru can be sufficient to bring peace. These teachings of Pramukh Swami Maharaj and now Mahant Swami Maharaj have helped me manage stress and become a more positive person overall, but I am full of flaws and have a long way to go.