God as the Guru
A follow-up to “Gurus: Yes or No?”
Q: Can I follow the right path without a spiritual leader to initiate me and guide me?
It is certainly necessary to have a guru, but everyone already has one: God Himself. Patanjali very clearly says about God (Ishwara): “He is guru even of the ancients” (Yoga Sutras 1:16). This indicates that at no time in creation has there been any other guru than God.
But how can we get in touch with this guru? Through meditation. And for that we certainly need teaching either from a personal teacher or from studying the teachings of an good instructor in meditation.
It is good to have someone to ask questions about experiences in meditation, but Vyasa and Shankara both say that yoga itself becomes the teacher when our practice is correct and prolonged. I know this to be true. My first meditation teachers in America were extremely limited, though sincere, and often could not answer my questions. But in time my meditation experience gave me the needed answers.
Later in India I met highly qualified teachers, all of whom answered my questions and gave me practical instruction–never with the demand that I make them my guru. They were rare for India, that is true, but they were there and I found them by the grace of the One Guru. Twice I fell into the guru-trap, but both times I escaped through the mercy of that One Guru, and had learned my lesson permanently.
You have already been initiated by God Himself. Here is the relevant section from chapter six of So’ham Yoga, The Yoga of the Self:
The yoga of the Self
Authentic yoga brings about everything spontaneously from deep within, from the Self. The yoga tradition says that the contemplation of So’ham is the contemplation of our own true nature. It is the knowledge of our own Self.
If our spiritual practice (sadhana) is to bring us to our eternal, natural state of spirit-consciousness, it, too, must be totally natural. The term sahaja is often found in yoga treatises, meaning that which is natural, innate and spontaneous. So’ham Yoga is the sahaja, spontaneous yoga, for the prana/breath movement occurs in every evolving being, and that movement is inseparable from the vibration of the subtle sound of So’ham. Though seemingly two, the movement of the breath and the vibrating of So’ham are the same thing, like fire and heat. Not only that, this is the only characteristic common to all forms of existence, from the atom to the perfectly liberated individual. Nothing, then, is more natural than the intoning of So’ham in time with the breath. It is the key to our inmost, true Self and its revelation.
That is why Vasuguptacharya said that through So’ham one becomes aware of the true nature of one’s Self. In the Self everything is to be found, for everything exists in the Self of the Self: the Supreme Self, Brahman. And So’ham Yoga is the Yoga of the Self. It is also the way to worship the divine Self–not with words but with direct experience of the Self. This is the supreme meaning of Ishwarapranidhana: the offering of the breath (prana) to God by means of the breath-mantra So’ham–That I am. Therefore, as previous cited, Lalla Yogeshwari said:
He who has recognized the Brahmarandhra
as the shrine of the Self-God,
He who has known the Unobstructed Sound
borne upon the breath unto the nose,
His vain imaginings of themselves have fled far away,
And he himself [recognizes] himself as the God.
To whom else, therefore, should he offer worship? (Lalla-Vakyani 33)
The best aspect of all this is that everything happens naturally and spontaneously at just the right time, simply through the So’ham breath. When the breath and So’ham are perfectly merged it is the major force of inner transformation-transmutation. The So’ham breath is the inner secret of the yogi. Saint Paul wrote: “We all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit [Pneuma: Breath] of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). In So’ham Yoga meditation we sit with closed eyes, looking into the mirror of our breath joined to So’ham. Eventually in that mirror we see reflected the Archetypal So’ham Breath of the Cosmos, the Breath of God Himself. This it is which changes us from glory to glory into perfect image-reflections of Ishwara–the Lord.
So’ham is a fundamental fact of the universe, a basic theorem of spiritual mathematics. Although it was discovered by the sages of India, it is not the exclusive property of any religion or philosophy. It is not a sectarian mantra; it belongs to all without distinction or exclusion. Although it was perceived by the Indian yogi-rishis, it is not a creation or formulation as are many other mantras. Rather, it is swayambhu–self-begotten, self-existent and self-sufficient. It arises spontaneously within, from the Self. It does not have to be artificially implanted or empowered in us by any kind of initiation. This mantra is going on in every one of us, but as long as we are outward turned we do not become aware of it. It is only during meditation, when we enter into our own depths, that we become aware of So’ham, which has always been going on within us.
The universality of So’ham Yoga practice is shown in the Garbha Upanishad which describes the various phases of the child’s development in the womb. In the seventh month after conception, the soul receives knowledge of its past and future. It knows who it has been and who it will be, what it has suffered and what it will suffer. This profoundly disturbs and even frightens the child, so it begins calling on God for help. Since God is the indweller in all beings, He has all along been aware of the child’s dilemma, and when it calls out to Him He calms it by revealing the Atma Mantra, So’ham, to it as a trait of its eternal being. When it takes refuge in that mantra, repeating it in time with its internal breath which after birth will produce the lung-breath, it remembers its nature as part of God, from Whom it is inseparable. In this way God has become its guru even in the womb. As Kabir said: “The Guru awakened me within by imparting just one word.” Immersed in So’ham awareness, the awareness of its true nature, it becomes calm and serene. But it loses this awareness in the trauma of birth and begins crying, making the sound “Kwanh, kwanh,” or “Ko’ham, Ko’ham”–Who am I? Who am I?–forgetting the insight it had gained. It loses the memory of So’ham and begins to identify with the body and its characteristics. Plunged into ignorance through forgetfulness, it begins to live out that ignorance, unaware of the Self. Later if he comes to learn about So’ham from a wise teacher, he can regain his lost identity.