The Spiritual Teacher in the Gita


Our teacher before a spiritual lecture advised us to sit still and to bring the attention to this point between the eyebrows. One of the methods of doing it is to touch there or tap, or press the fingernail, or even just pinch a little bit, and use the after-sensation to bring the attention here.  If you like, now we can try this for a minute or two. I’ll begin with the name of God, OM, and then just touch the finger or if you can bring the attention there without it, to do it for a minute. (Chanting of OM).  In this way he said we can cut off the stream of associations, meaning the association that would normally run through our mind, and concentrate on the subject.

Now, the word ‘guru,’ teacher, hardly occurs in the Gita itself. There are other gurus than spiritual gurus: the guru of archery, for instance, the guru of strategy and so on. The spiritual teacher is referred to in 3 verses in Chapter 4.  Now, we notice the three external means were given: bowing down, asking questions, and being attentive – which has got the meaning of wanting to hear and also of service.  This is the classical form and we notice that in the Gita none of these conditions are fulfilled. Arjuna doesn’t go to a teacher and do service to him. The teacher is Krishna, his charioteer. He doesn’t ask questions about liberation, about freedom. He asked, “What am I to do, fight or not fight?” He doesn’t bow down in reverence and he doesn’t do service. Now, we can say, “Well, this is extraordinary”.

But our teacher used to give this example. He said in classical India a doctor, when called, they used to send a formal messenger who was to guide him and if the patient’s family could afford it, they would send a carriage.  Then the doctor must arrange his equipment in good order, must dress carefully, and in the carriage he must proceed with dignity to the house of the patient.  But if it is an emergency, then the doctor must run barefoot through the street. He said that, “In an emergency many of the requirements can be set aside and waived.”   So it is – the Gita is a teaching given in a crisis, in an emergency.

Arjuna is desperate. He is not asking for the highest truth. He is only asking what to do in an agonising situation where he must make a decision. He doesn’t know which will be worse, to fight or not to fight. He asks simply for that.

The other conditions are waived and Krishna teaches him, but he doesn’t teach him as a human teacher. He makes it clear when he begins the teaching that this is the God, the universal Lord teaching. Arjuna doesn’t believe this.  The requirement of faith, absolute faith in the teacher has also been waived. Arjuna does not believe it. Krishna says to him in the beginning of Chapter 4, “I have taught you this eternal Yoga which I taught at the beginning of creation for the first men”.

Arjuna says, “How can you have taught it at the beginning of creation? You are here now.” He hasn’t listened. When Krishna previously explained to him, “We are all immortal. None of us have ever ceased to exist, neither you, nor I, nor these men, nor should any of us cease to exist hereafter”. He makes it clear this is not the personality of Krishna which is teaching but the universal Lord.

Throughout the Gita there is the description of ‘I, the teacher’, given of himself in cosmic terms: “I am the light of the moon and the sun. I am fluidity in water. I am the energy of the mighty workers. I am the silence of the mystics. I am the God of love. I am the God of war. I am Rama. I am Krishna.” He makes it clear that this is a universal Lord who is teaching Arjuna.

Now, the requirement of service is normally an important one in the classical Yoga. Very often the seekers come and for a time they serve the teacher, and then he asks them, “What is it you’ve come about?” They have come in order to find a truth of which they’ve heard.

Prajapati made a great declaration: “There is an immortal Self, undecaying, all pervading,” and to hear about it Indra and Virochana, without communicating with each other, they go. They want to know and realise what is this Self.

Our teacher said, “Don’t lose this spirit to serve. It is not a question of simply doing service.” There is a saying, ‘Beware of slaves.’ What does this mean? The slave is not a servant. A servant has a purpose and he follows direction. But the devoted slave simply wants to preserve the master from hearing anything that might upset him. Stalin had slaves who were afraid to upset him with news and so they withheld the news from him.

Finally, the slave thinks, “Oh, the master shouldn’t have to do that,” and he takes on himself things that the master can perfectly well do. The progression is the slave is first useful, then he is indispensable, then finally the master cannot do without the slave. Then, as it is said, “The slave has become the master”.

In fact, this happened for about a century in Nepal where the royal family was kept in the luxurious grounds of the palace, in deliberately enervating luxury, and no news or anything like that from outside was allowed to disturb their serenity and happiness. The whole thing was run by a hereditary family of ministers who preserved the king from having any cares, or troubles, or difficulties, or knowing anything that might worry him.

This has happened in Rome and it happened in China. The Chinese phrase for it is ‘prisoners of heaven.’ Therefore, as our teacher said, “Don’t serve slavishly. Don’t serve blindly. Serve to know the nature of Self and of the world”.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Spiritual Teacher in the Gita

Part 2: Maya is a magical illusion

Part 3: The world is like a dream

Part 4: Withdraw the senses