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Sharing the spiritual tradition of the great Indian sage, Bhagawan Nityananda, Yogi Times interviews Swami Shankarananda, Master Charles and Swami Chetanananda.
Yogi Times: Because we live in a society where celebrity is a big deal, and many gurus have now become demi-celebrities, how would you each describe this responsibility and the relationship between teacher and student?
Master Charles: Well, with any power comes great responsibility. So I always say that the first responsibility for the master is that he or she walks their talk. In other words, what you are teaching, you must exemplify impeccably. And if you do, then that is the relationship that you have with your disciples.
At the same time, I think it’s important that we don’t get confused that the master-disciple relationship is something that is eternal in terms of the idea of separation – that the master is one thing and the disciple is another and never the two shall meet. Rather, the classical principle that I subscribe to is that in the initial stages of that relationship there are two, but ultimately, the two must become one. A real master doesn’t formally make disciples. A real master makes masters.
Chetanananda: An authentic teacher exists independent of celebrity. I have met extraordinary people who will never be famous, and fine teachers who are very well known. It is the quality of their presence and their willingness to share it that is the real indication of their greatness.
A guru is an energy resource for students to draw on as they undertake spiritual work. The responsibility of the teacher is to honor and support the student’s highest potential for growth. This relationship should be one of mutual respect, loving-kindness and compassion, and can be described as contact, surrender and flow. The guru assists us in making contact with the energetic mechanism that is at the core of our existence. Contact is like turning on a light switch, awakening us to the possibilities present in the field of our creative expression. Surrender is entering into a neutral state, suspending our judgments and reactions, so that we are open and able to respond to the change that contact brings about. Flow is what happens as the energy moves through the channels in our energetic mechanism and establishes a rhythmic, balanced interchange between us and every aspect or our environment.
Shankarananda: Certainly, if I became a celebrity I would be capable of all manner of excess, so in order to protect myself from that eventuality I work with these two fellows. Then in case I forget, it’s always obvious that the divine Shakti is greater than any individual, and our coming together as a group is larger than any of us by ourselves. If I could figure out a way to get rid of them I would be open to the hundred Rolls Royces and a guest spot on Oprah. But failing that, I’ll just return home and cultivate my garden in Australia. Australians know what to do if someone gets too inflated or “up themselves.”
Unfortunately this kind of ego temptation does affect some gurus who are easily intoxicated. Since as yet there is no governing body to control the egos of gurus, the fallback position is the discrimination and good sense of the prospective disciple.
YT: When people meet you, what is the initiation they go through in order to become a disciple?
Chetanananda: When someone first comes to practice, we ask that they take a one-hour introductory session to familiarize them with our basic meditation. Beyond that, no formal initiation is required.
However, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition I teach, initiation is customary. As a lineage holder, to honor that tradition I perform initiations accordingly. This typically involves an empowerment to perform the rituals as well as instruction and commentary from the appropriate texts.
Shankaranada: My guru used to say that disciple’s grace is much more important than guru’s grace. What he meant was that it is the openness, or lack thereof, of the disciple that determines the relationship and the quality of transmission. So to become a disciple, all one needs is to be open to the guru and to want to be a disciple. At some point, early in my relationship with Baba Muktananda, I simply knew that I was his disciple. The next day he called me over and gave me one of his knitted beanies. Now, I felt wonderfully happy about that but rather than thinking of it as some form of initiation, I felt more that it was a testimony that I was moving in the right direction, and that he was pleased with me. There is no formal initiation to become a disciple. However, the reception of shaktipat awakening constitutes the mystical level of discipleship.
Master Charles: People meet me in various ways. They meet me through my technology – through the CDs or the correspondence courses of meditation, my books. And then, if they find resonance and want to deepen that connection, they come to a retreat and meet me in person. Rather than following the old classical model of initiation by transmission of energy from master to disciple, I contemporized it into what is called “high tech empowerment.” We use a special facility that has twelve individual modules in it and a control room. I sit in the control room, and everybody is laying on very high-tech pallets in their individual modules surrounded by a vibratory apparatus. Everything in that module is controlled from the sound that you hear to the vibrations that move through the apparatus, to the lighting to the aromatherapy – in about an hour-long experience. All eyes are closed, although the lighting in the room is indigo blue. While people are lying there in this experience, I move around those rooms and give them my physical impact.