Adhikara: A Question of Qualification

Highest teachings are imparted by a revered friend Photo: Lyle Olson

What are the different relationships between a student and teacher? And why is qualification necessary?

Many a student has considered himself qualified for the highest teachings leading to Self-realization but in fact does not even know the criteria for qualification (adhikara).





There are 4 basic criteria for qualification: 

  1. Viveka, sharp buddhi or sense of discrimination and values
  2. Vairagya, non-attachment 
  3. Mumukshutva, deep desire for spiritual achievement
  4. The above three lead to Sampathi, discipline or sadhana

What happens when a student meets a teacher? There are 4 possibilities. 

Possibility 1: An unqualified student meets an unqualified teacher

The saintly teacher Sri Ramakrishna was on his way to a pine-grove, when he heard a bullfrog croaking. It had been seized by a snake. After some time, as he was coming back, he could still hear its terrified croaking. He looked to see what the matter was, and found that a water-snake had seized it. The snake could neither swallow it nor give it up. So there was no end to the frog's suffering. If it been seized by a cobra it would have been silenced after three croaks at the most. As it was only a water-snake, both of them had to go through this agony. If the teacher is "unripe", then both the teacher and the disciple undergo endless suffering like the frog and the snake. 

Modern students roam around in search of gurus or perfect masters. They create an image in their minds and visit teachers expecting them to live according to the image they have created. They are disappointed because their fantasies never come true. They become bitter and cynical, instead of asking themselves, "Are you capable of attracting a teacher?"

Why should a good guru assume responsibility for a bad student? If you are in search of a guru, search within first. To become a yogi means to know your own condition here and now, and to work with yourself. Don’t grumble because you don’t have a teacher. Ask yourself if you deserve one. How do you recognize a guru? Only a jeweler knows the true value of a gem; the unprepared student is unable to recognize a true guru. The guru will recognize you. 

Real masters also search for a good student. In the path of the yogic tradition, the guru/disciple relationship is deeper than the parent/child relationship. It is a divine relation­ship, the goal being spiritual attainment alone and nothing worldly. 

Possibility 2: An unqualified student meets a qualified teacher

While the unqualified student is arguing with the teacher, the teacher is trying to prepare the student so that he eventually has the qualification that will lead to sadhana and to spiritual achievement (siddhi). Even though the student does not seek spiritual attainments, the compassionate teacher prepares the student until he is qualified; a process that may take years, even decades! This is possible only if the unqualified student stays in the company of the teacher, who has the power to destroy all his preconceived ideas in a brutal process of unlearning. A satguru, one invested with spiritual authority is a "cobra teacher" and it is impossible to come out of his clutches without injuring your ego! 

The saintly Sri Ramakrishna, once saw a scorpion drowning in the river; he wanted to rescue it. One of his students protested, "But if you try to rescue it, it will sting you." Sri Ramakrishna replied, "It is the nature of the scorpion to sting; it is my nature to rescue it." Needless to say, the scorpion stung Ramakrishna, who in spite of the pain he suffered, succeeded in rescuing the scorpion. Such is the relationship between an unqualified student and a qualified teacher. The teacher gets willing stung by the unprepared argumentative student, who is reluctant to unlearn his deep-rooted negative mind patterns.

Sri Ramakrishna Photo: unknown

Possibility 3: A qualified student meets unqualified teacher 

In this case the student should look for another teacher. This scenario is highly unlikely, since a qualified student has a fairly sharp buddhi and can pass through the "fence" of unqualified teachers of Ayoga.

How can such a qualified student recognize his teacher? He must have faith. Not blind faith, but reasoned faith. You have to get in to the water to learn swimming. You have to trust the teacher and let go the sides of the pool to learn swimming. Sitting on land and moving arms and legs will not help. If the teacher can convince you repeatedly through action, not just words, that the teacher has your interest at heart, then continue. If not, seek out another teacher and start all over.

You may become egotistical and think, “I don’t need a guru.” That is ego talking. Do your duty in the world with love, and that alone will contribute significantly to your progress on the path of enlightenment. You do need a mentor who can guide you and lead you to the Guru within. You can have different teachers, but it is best to stick with one tradition and one guru. If you mix practices from different traditions you will not progress. You just have to make up your own mind. Develop a willingness to transform and unlearn. Then a guru will appear.

Possibility 4: A qualified student meets a qualified teacher

This is an auspicious meeting. Be grateful that you are so fortunate that you have found refuge in an authentic tradition and have a mentor. 

The "Gospel of Ramakrishnna" by Master Mahasya refers to the meeting between Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. "The Autobiography of a Yogi" narrates the story of how  Yogananda Paramahansa. met his teacher Sri Yukteswarji. Indian spiritual tradition records many such meetings. The Yoga Vasishtha is about the meeting of Lord Rama and Brahmarishi Vasishtha. The Mahabharata narrates many stories of the meetings between Arjuna and his teacher Sri Krishna including the great teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. The Mundaka Upanishad is a dialogue between the householder Shaunaka and his teacher Angiras. The Tripura Rahasya is full of such narrations. In fact, most scriptures are narrations of meetings between qualified students and their highly qualified teachers.

Modern students have an image of the guru as a supernatural human being—an image that reflects their own ideas. A guru is one who thinks, speaks, and acts according to the dictates of his own conscience. The highest of all gurus in human form is he who practices and is experienced himself and who guides you selflessly on the path of enlightenment. The scriptures say, “Wake up from the deep sleep of ignorance, prepare yourself, learn to listen to your own conscience, and do not follow the tricks played by your mind." Do not waste time in knowing the different paths, but follow one path with all sincerity and faithfulness.

You get what you want

Do you think you are a well prepared student? Do you really deserve a qualified teacher? If you have not found a genuine teacher, maybe you have not looked in the right place? Do you think a teacher has to live up to your limited and foolish ideas? A satguru is free and cannot be limited by your wishes and desires. 

What should your teacher look like? If you want a teacher in an orange or red costume, an old man with a long, flowing, white beard or someone with grand titles and a huge following of devotees, then that is exactly the kind of teacher you will find. This however is no guarantee for a qualified teacher.