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Guru and Shishya

Guru and Chela/Shishya

The tradition of the special relationship between the teacher and student in yoga goes back for many thousands of years.  In the very early days of the development of the yoga/ dharma traditions teaching was oral.  The chela or shishya would spend many years studying under the guidance of a qualified swami.  The qualification was not measured by paper diplomas and degrees but by experience and wisdom.

The word `guru` (weighty one) is also described as dispeller of darkness or ignorance.  Unlike an ordinary teacher of factual or reasoning using knowledge, the guru is also concerned with the spiritual development and enlightenment of his followers. Self Realisation is seen as a sign of the true guru.  The chela (north India) or shishya (south India) is the student who devotes him(her)self to their guru`s needs, serving without question.  Twelve years was a traditional period to spend with the guru but this could vary as it still does.  During that time the sishya would be expected to learn the ancient vedic teachings and traditions of the sampradya (path or school) to which the guru belonged by initiation.  In many cases the experience of the student did not lead to full spiritual enlightenment.  Where a guru is able to trigger that realisation in their student they become known as that student`s `satguru` (spitiual guru).  Students are cautioned to avoid jumping from one teacher to another once the decision has been made to accept someone as their guru.  This is more common in the west where we are accustomed to picking up teaching from a wide range of teachers and traditions.

A common expression in yoga is that `when the time is right, the guru will appear`.  In the meantime the student may well move from teacher to teacher picking up knowledge and ideas from many sources.  The bond between guru and sishya is akin to a sacred marriage which at times may well resemble the marriage oath of `for better for worse`.

The `contract` between guru and shishya is not to be taken lightly.  Simply liking a teacher and his/her style is not enough.  By accepting a disciple the guru also takes on board the spiritual devlopment and karma of that person.  A disciple should consider carefully the implications of dedicating their self to such a lifelong commitment.                                                               2012 04 25