Role of the external teacher in yoga

The following is an excerpt of the commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Radhikaji from her forthcoming book to be published in 2017. Chapter 2 Verses 1-4 are covered in this article.

Verse 1: Role of the teacher

Sanjaya  is describing Arjuna  once again. Arjuna is filled with pitiful mood, his eyes full of tears, he is suffering from sadness. This is the state of the mind in which many a seeker comes to the teacher. The seeker is looking for guidance. If he does not have a teacher, this is the right time to look for a teacher. 

Spiritual teachers are often put on a pedestal and some people have taken to to guru worship. This kind of relationship is not serving the the seeker. If you recall the times when you were in school you might remember that some of the teachers that you really enjoyed learning from. The teachers who motivated you, the teachers that inspired you, were teachers who were really able to communicate with you, they were positive, friendly, loving and responsive. These are the qualities of the teacher. A good teacher empathizes with your suffering, he can come down from his heights to the level of the student who is lost in in these emotions, lost in avidya. When such a teacher is available, he is a friend, mentor and  guide, such a teacher can really help you on the path. 

The word mentor it is very  often used in academic and management circles. The word mentor is used quite naturally. The word guru on the other hand is suspect. In modern society, specially in the West, it is associated with cults, with crooks who want your money. All this makes us afraid and wary of gurus. Modern Indians are also uncomfortable with the idea of having a guru. Since the word guru is a little bit tainted in the West especially, the way out of this is to use the word mentor. The word mentor has a very positive meaning and it is used quite often in modern society. It is accepted that one cannot really succeed without a mentor in management careers. 

What is true in management or academics, is also true in the spiritual world. Yet people are afraid of having a guru or a teacher. They shy away from the idea of having a guru, and would rather learn from books, videos and internet sites. They learn from many teachers but learning is more on the information level and it remains very superficial. The other side of the coin is that for many Indians who do have gurus, it is all about  putting teacher on a pedestal and worshipping him. Yet the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna is that of friendship. It says that throughout the  Mahabharata. It does not  say that Krishna was a teacher and Arjuna was the student, it says they were good friends and that is the uniqueness of this relationship, a great deal of emphasis is put on this idea of a revered friend. Having a mentor or guru means integrating all these things into your daily life at a deeper unconscious level.  

Having a revered friend means having somebody you spend time with and share with. The mentor guides you, in what may seem to be simple matters but it is these simple matters that help us integrate this sublime philosophy into our life, without these changes and awareness the beautiful philosophical ideas remain purely at a theoretical level. That which remains at an intellectual level goes neither to an unconscious level nor does it transform us. What we need is a revered friend, he or she is not like a buddy that we do silly things with. The element of respect is very important. Thus Sri Krishna is stepping into his role of the mentor, guide, counsel and revered friend.

Verses 2 and 3: Sankalpa Shakti or determination

During the process of meditation the unacceptable qualities come forward, the qualities that we consider negative, unpleasant and undesirable get active.  You get disturbed and you want to escape from this. Many even begin to believe that meditation is dangerous. When you see the negative qualities in yourself you begin to condemn yourself and at that point you stop get stuck. This is when you need a revered friend, a mentor, an external guru.

If the mentor or guru hasn't gone through the process of meditation before and he is merely talking out of books than he cannot gauge your progress. As it says in the Upanishads, we have a case of the blind leading the blind. The teacher read books and is ignorant. The student of such a teacher will also remain ignorant. The teacher you need, the revered  friend, is one who has walked this path before, he has meditated and he has gone through this process of looking at the unhealthy qualities within and he is aware of his own negative emotions of greed, anger, pride, he knows the power of attachments and aversions and he knows how to deal with these. He is well aware of the doubts they bring and how they can cover you with a veil of darkness and when you are feeling your fears, your attachments or your anger, you completely lose your detachment and sense of discrimination. Only such a teacher can guide you and what he does is motivate you help you become stronger, take you to your own inner sankalpa shakti. 

We cannot continuously borrow energy from our teacher, not even from our revered  friend. Ultimately we need to find our own strengths within, sankalpa shakti, determination. Until that time that you find your inner teacher, until your Buddhi  is sharp enough, you have your revered friend, you have your mentor, who guides you.

These two verses also indicate the importance of sankalpa shakti, the need for this revered friend outside, who in the early stages provides you with that sankalpa shakti, encourage you and eventually leads you to all the Guru within to the source of all Shakti that lies within us.

Verse 4: Buddhi, conscience or inner wisdom

Conscience is a good translation for Buddhi. It is that inner voice of wisdom in you, that tells you that you should do something or should not do something. In countries where there are dictators, people are put in prison because they refuse to do what they are told to do. These are called prisoners of conscience, because they are following their conscience. So a seeker of truth must learn to listen to his conscience.

These days people read a lot of books and websites, scholarly websites as well as websites from different teachers and traditions. These days are many large organizations and  institutes that are very active and they have a lot of videos. These people are respectful of these teachers and they are also our role models but we must follow our conscience and not blindly follow the teacher. This is the difference between blind faith and reasoned faith.


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Dhritarashtra, the blind king symbolizes ignorance. He is the King that means the body is the kingdom and when ignorance rules here then a lot of different battles and conflicts play out in the mind. Atma vichara also known as internal dialogue is a good practice to resolve these conflicts. Those who practice internal dialogue may especially experience this internal battle.

You start questioning your ideals, your actions.  Most of us think it is important to to earn lots of money, to have a career, become famous.  These are ideas which are promoted in modern society such as ambition, competition, success whatever the cost may be. But then as we evolve through our life experience over a period of time, and you are not convinced about these ideals anymore. What you considered good and worthy of pursuit is no longer “good”. Now you may consider those who still follow such ideals of materialism and power to be “bad”.  Perhaps over time you will develop further and learn to witness both the “good” as well as the “bad”. These indicates our continuous development. 

So external teachers like Bhishma or Drona, good as they were, for that point of time, ultimately sharpening Buddhi or inner guide indicates further growth. In this process of sharpening Buddhi, you may make mistakes, if you do not, then you will probably never develop.