By Swami Sivananda

The disciple said: O Merciful Master! I bow to thee. I have fallen into the dreadful ocean of birth and death. I am afflicted with the three kinds of Taapas. Save me, O Lord. Teach me, how I should cross this ocean of Samsara.

The disciple approaches the Guru. This is the starting- point of Brahmavidya. The aspirant, after equipping himself with the Sadhana-Chatushtaya, i.e., the ethical discipline necessary for the purification of the heart before entering into the field of Brahmavidya i.e. the science of the Ultimate Reality, goes to the spiritual teacher for higher knowledge.

The Mundaka Upanishad says that after finding that everything on earth is worthless, the seeker of the eternally good, should approach a preceptor who is well versed in scriptures and established in the Consciousness of Brahman. The subtleties of the essence of life enter into the heart of the aspirant only when he is purged of the impurities that cloud his understanding. The conduct of an aspirant after the Supreme Truth is an ideal one. It is not erudite learning that is demanded of the aspirant but a crystalline heart and a childlike feeling.

The pride of scholarship has to be set aside before the glorious teacher of Brahmavidya. Humbler than a blade of grass, filled with the fire of renunciation born of discriminative understanding, the seeker bows down to the Guru who teaches the majesty of Brahmic splendor. Not as the present-day student of the school or the college, but as an earnest votary of life’s grand destination, roused by the consciousness of suffering in the pluralistic existence on earth, fully aware of the affliction of mortal living, cheated by chance, tormented by thought, defeated by the forces of nature, oppressed by the massive weight of worldly duty, shocked by the horror of death, dreaded by the consciousness of future lives where the tragedy of existence will be repeated, finding no way of escape from the prison of terrestriality, the aspirant opens his eyes and looks up towards his great duty, the duty of Self-Realization.

The necessity of a Guru is demanded by the fact that one’s own conscience is not always to be trusted. Virochana acted according to the voice of his conscience and realised that ‘body is the Self’. People who are filled with mala, vikshepa and avarana, who are drowned in worldliness, cannot be guided by their conscience. A spiritual Preceptor is absolutely necessary. He alone can foresee the pitfalls of the aspirant and direct him to the right path. The Chandogya Upanishad says that only he who is guided by a Guru can have the knowledge of Brahman. Others will be misled and lost in spiritual blindness; for the road to moksha is hard to tread. It is a razor-edged path. The grace of God and Guru, Ishwara-Kripa and Guru-Kripa will raise the aspirant to the heights of spiritual attainment.

The Guru said: Fear not, my child; In reality there is no death for thee. There is a means of crossing this ocean of relative existence and attaining immortality or Supreme Bliss. I shall teach thee now Brahma-Vidya. Hear with rapt attention.

The compassion of the Guru towards the disciple is a proverbial one. The aspirant who has tranquility of mind, who has controlled his senses, who has developed serenity and the power of endurance, who has faith in God, Guru and the scriptures, who has one-pointedness of mind and a yearning for liberation, one who has the heart of a Brahmanishtha, is answered by the Guru.

“There is no death.” Death is an extinction of what previously existed. Death of Consciousness is an impossibility as Consciousness is presupposed by every mode of existence. What appears to be cast off is the layer of objectified consciousness or materialised thought, called the physical body. But even this removal of the physical sheath is only a state of the changing of individual consciousness. It is the shock felt by the individual at the loss of a sheath which was cherished with the belief that it is an eternal entity It feels like the apparent death of his existence.

That aspect of the physical consciousness which feels its inability to fulfil certain orders of diverse desires in a particular state of existence changes its mode of consciousness into that of a different category which is suited to the fulfilment of its desires. This process of change is termed “death.” Hence death is only a stage in spiritual evolution and not to be considered a dread specter which is hard to be exorcised.

The means of crossing the ocean of relative existence is the knowledge of the infinite Brahman or the Eternal Self. The various activities in daily life, the hustle and bustle of business and the cry of the soul are all a restless demand for a state of joy and satisfaction. The man of the world seeks it in wrong places, where it is not, he turns away from Truth and catches the shadow, he strays away from his Self and runs after the phantom, he tries to find eternal bliss in son, wife, wealth, property, name, fame and power! The blessed man turns his gaze inward and beholds the Light of the Immutable Substratum, the Changeless Noumenon.

The words of the Preceptor enter like arrows piercing the illusion of the aspirant’s mind. His instructions dispel ignorance and tear open the veils that envelop the central being or the essential nature of the Self.