Guru Bhakti – Devotion to the Master

We have not seen God. How can we worship Him or offer our devotion to Him? Under these circumstances, whom should we worship? Who is the being in whom God has manifested, and who is able to create the right conditions for devotion and for helping us to increase our love for Him? Such a person is none other than a Real Master. In him there is the spark of Truth. He is a living example of the beauty of Truth and Spirituality and is able to guide his disciples on the right Path by drawing their minds in the right direction.

The best and the highest method of meeting God is to love the Master and to remain at His Lotus Feet. This is the first step of the ladder towards God-Realization. Devotion to the Master is to love Him. It is to live according to His orders and directions – physically as well as mentally. In other words, one should give away one’s heart to one’s Master.

It is essential that we give our heart to our Master, for, when one gives away one’s heart, one automatically gives one’s whole body and puts one’s entire life in the hands of the Master. If our life and our body are not ours because they have been surrendered to the Master, then where are our religious beliefs? They too are all merged in the Master. This body, mind and life – and even our religion, all bind us to this world. As soon as they are surrendered at the Lotus Feet of the Master, we become detached and shall not be born again. Then nothing remains in the way of the progress of the soul towards God-Realization, and our running about in this world is finished. This is only a small fraction of the benefits resulting from devotion to the Master. Actually, the advantages are so great and so numerous that they are beyond description.

Devotion consists in fixing the form of the Master in our heart. This devotion should be similar to that of the Chakor (moon bird) for the moon. Then love is awakened in the heart of the disciple. So long as love is not of that type, the effort to create conditions for such a love should be continued. Once devotion of this high type is established in a human heart, the soul automatically starts rising upward and is able to catch hold of the Sound Current.

Those who try to listen to the Sound Current without having true devotion for their Master are ignorant, because one listens to the Sound Current only by the Grace and Mercy of a True Master. The magnetic power of his love and our devotion attract the soul towards higher regions.

Soami Ji says:

If a person tries to follow the practice of listening to Shabd Dhun (Sound Current) without devotion to the Master, he is ignorant, because Shabd will be heard only by the Grace of the Master, and it is the Master alone who will pull the soul upwards.

A Gurumukh is a person who is a True Devotee of his Guru. By being a Gurumukh one is able to open the Gateway for the soul to soar towards the higher regions.

Devotion to the Master is the foundation of all practices. The other methods are all branches leading from it. Love for the Master is a unique treasure. It is impossible to describe this state of devotion in cold print.

A mother’s love for her child is beyond human description. It binds the two together and there is no power that can break it. But love for the Master is far above the love of a mother for her child.

A lover loves his beloved very much. A glow of happiness lights up his face as soon as he sees his beloved. But the Master has a unique spiritual beauty and magnetic power of attraction. His form radiates thousands of blissful currents of attraction which invigorate the body and the mind.

Even if one were to see the Master’s face at all times, or for hundreds of times and with hundreds of eyes, the mind would never be satiated, because every time that face is seen it is beheld with a new light and a greater radiance.

Just as the sparkling wine in a wine glass pleases the mind of a drinker, similarly, devotion to the Master gives physical strength and mental happiness to the devotee of a Guru when he beholds the beautiful eyes of his Master.

A fish cannot live without water, because without it, it dies gasping for water. Similarly, a Gurumukh is sustained by spiritual energy as a result of diving deep into the ocean of love for the Guru. For him, nearness to the Guru is heaven, and to be away from the Guru makes him burn in the fires of hell.

A papiha – rain bird – is fond of rain drops, and will drink no other water. Similarly, a true devotee will not look with the same amount of love at any person other than his own Guru, because his Guru is the support of his life, and the disciple will not accept any other support.

Love for the Master is sweet and magnetic, and is able to bring happiness to the disciple. On beholding the Guru, there is an indescribable ecstasy which is spontaneous and permeates every pore of the body. Even by having a small taste of this ecstatic state the soul is steeped in the Master’s love.

Guru’s Simran – remembrance or repetition –, Dhyan – beholding him internally or externally –, and listening to the Shabd – Sound Current –, as instructed by the Guru, are the three effective practices for purifying the mind.

It is true that love is not awakened unless there is real beauty in the beloved. The bulbul – nightingale – will hover over fragrant flowers, but it will never go near artificial or paper flowers. The spiritual beauty of the Guru attracts thousands of souls by awakening love in them, and takes them beyond the limits of birth and death.

The Satguru is beyond description. We poor souls are not worthy of worshipping him. Even the gods and goddesses are not able to comprehend him. Only those who have the Grace of the Lord are able to know him.

We can offer devotion only to someone who is superior to ourselves, and we are able to imbibe his qualities only to the extent of our love for and faith in him. A Master is full of spiritual qualities and powers, and we shall imbibe his spiritual qualities and powers to the extent of our love and devotion to him.

When we love someone, we imbibe his qualities and become like him. In accordance with this principle, if we worship our Master, we will imbibe all his qualities and we shall become like him. The beauty of the beloved always enters the life and body of the lover.

Everything exerts a definite influence in its immediate vicinity. An electric bulb will spread its light up to a certain limit. Similarly, fire will spread its heat within a certain sphere. Water in tanks or pools has the effect of making things cool in its own area. In the same manner, every conscious being – chetan purush – spreads his influence within a certain area. Spiritual currents emanating from Him will affect persons coming in contact with them. This is known as the personal aura. Whoever comes near is definitely influenced.

We get warmth by sitting near a fire and cold by going in the vicinity of ice, in the same manner, if we sit near a highly evolved soul, his spiritual rays will certainly bestow his influence on us. There is, however, one necessary qualification, that is we are benefited according to the degree of our love for, faith in, and devotion to, him.

Just as water cannot enter a stone, even if the stone is immersed in it for a long time, similarly, those who are without devotion are as impregnable as the stone.

Adi Granth

A human being is composed of physical body, mind and soul, and devotion is rendered with the help of all the three.

The physical body consists of five gross elements:

  1. ether,
  2. air,
  3. fire,
  4. water and
  5. earth.

The finer elements of the senses are derived from these and consist of:

  1. hearing,
  2. touch or feeling,
  3. seeing,
  4. taste and
  5. smell.

When we sit near the Master and listen to his words with our ears or hearing faculty, that is known as Shabd Bhakti – sound or hearing devotion.

When we touch the Master’s feet with our hands, it is called Sparsh Bhakti or devotion by touch.

When we bow before Him and the Master places his hands over our head or embraces us, that is also touch devotion.

When we behold the Master without blinking and steadily gaze at Him, that is known as Rup – Form – devotion.

With our tongue we repeat His Names, and also eat parshad which is bestowed by Him in His Grace. That is known as taste devotion.

Imbibing the sweet fragrance emanating from the spiritual currents that radiate from the body of a Master is known as smell devotion.

There is another type of sense devotion which is popularly known as pashu bhakti – devotion through the grosser senses. This is performed only by those who still harbour animal desires. Such people have not yet developed vivek – discrimination. They are full of narrow-mindedness and religious bigotry, which cause them a great deal of trouble and pain. The majority of people in this world are of this type. They are deeply engrossed in personal dissension and quarrelling, and in fighting cases in law courts.

Some of these people are known as guru pashu i.e. they lack discrimination and cling stubbornly to their beliefs. Others are called admi pashu. Still others are known as aurat pashu. They are narrow-minded and dogmatic in their views and beliefs.

Such people do not imbibe the truly noble impressions and qualities of their Guru.

If a pitcher is kept inverted, rain water will never enter it. Such persons sometimes come under the influence of their own convictions and even act against the instructions or wishes of their Master. This causes them trouble and is also painful to their Master. Real devotion is done with discrimination.

Kabir says:

All the people in the world are either blind followers of a guru (master, guide or teacher), or of men, or of women, or of religions. But a man in the right sense of the word is he who exercises discrimination and caution in all matters.

The second type of devotion is mental devotion. A person’s heart – Antahkaran – has four different attributes: chit, manas, buddhi and ahankar.

  1. Chit is used for the reception of the Master’s words.
  2. Man (pronounced mun) accepts those words.
  3. Buddhi uses discrimination in understanding and making use of those words.
  4. Ahankar is the quality of firmness in following the words or instructions.

Such practice is known as mental devotion to the Master, and it can be achieved only by concentration of the mind. The ears, eyes and the tongue are controlled and concentrated, and contact is made with the Naam and the Master.

This is done by means of three practices which are known as Simran – repetition or remembrance –, Dhyan – contemplation on the Form of the Master –, and Bhajan – listening to the Sound Current.

These practices are to be performed externally as well as internally. Externally, we do the Simran of the Master at all times, see the Master’s Form and contemplate on it, and listen to the instructions and talks of the Master. By these three external practices, love for the Master will increase, we will be able to come near to the Master (within) and we will be able to concentrate our attention within. The spiritual powers of the Master will enter our minds and will enable us to make our contemplation steady. Then our soul will be able to catch hold of the Sound Current and soar upwards. At the time of Initiation, a Master imparts the full details of these three practices to his disciple and gives first-hand-experience of the Light of God and the Sound of God.

Sound, touch, form (sight), taste and smell are the five types of preliminary devotion of a lower order. Thereafter, Simran – repetition or remembrance –, Dhyan – contemplation –, and Bhajan – listening to the Sound Current – externally as well as internally, are the three next higher kinds of devotion.

The first stage of devotion is simple and gross. The second is finer, and the aim is to contemplate on the Form of the Master within. In this category there are eight different types of devotion.

Mahatma Charan Das describes the qualities of such devotion in the following verse:

You should do Simran, sing His praises, contemplate and worship. You should have love for the Lord in your mind, and place your soul at His Feet. You should be humble and serve the Gurumukhs, Sadhus and Saints, and also remain in their company. It is good to serve them. Dedicate your own self with faith and firmness, and imbibe into your mind forgiveness, continence, contentment and mercy. Remember your Master, bow to him, contemplate on him and worship him. Love the Lord, and place your soul at His Feet.

Next comes spiritual devotion. This consists in the soul’s contacting Naam by means of concentration at its centre – the headquarters of the soul in the body –, and to remain happy in the enjoyment of Naam. This is known as Naam Bhakti. By this method the soul rises above the physical and mental planes and goes to finer regions.

In ordinary language, Simran, Dhyan and Bhajan are considered to be three types of devotion; but actually they are one, practised internally.

For devotion it is necessary that the soul, the body and the mind should act simultaneously. If one has given his heart away, he has virtually given everything – his body, his life and everything else is dedicated to the object of his love. The attachment of the heart is real devotion, which is, in other words, nothing but intense love. If you attach your heart to the Master, that is known as Guru Bhakti. The word Bhakti – devotion – is derived from the Sanskrit word Bhaj, which means ‚service‘. So, service to the Master is also Guru Bhakti.

Oh Brother! Be the humblest of the humble. Guru Bhakti, which is service to the Master, is achieved only by a very few.

Adi Granth

People say that they believe in God, that they worship Him and also love Him. We can believe that they have faith in God and that they also worship Him, but it is not possible for everybody to love Him. True and intense love can be experienced only through another human being. For instance, we observe that a man loves his wife, but if she dies and then visits him in her astral body, he will cry out that it is a ghost and will not want to see her. The reason is very clear. She is no longer composed of the same elements and is now in her astral form, while he is in the physical or gross form.

Similarly, God is invisible and inaccessible, and man is still in his gross physical form. So at first, a human being needs a Master in the physical form, who will enable him to rise out of the physical body – die daily –, make him finer – pure spirit –, and thus make him capable of loving the Lord.

Guru Amar Das says:

Devotion is not possible, nor is happiness achieved without love. It is only by devotion to the Master that the mind receives courage and a person gains the wealth of love.

Devotion to the Master is a step towards true devotion to God. Someone might say, perhaps, that God can manifest His beauty and consciousness to human beings by His Divine Will. Truly, this is possible; but so long as a person does not soar high and attain (at least) astral consciousness, he will not be able to understand or realize within himself the beauty, the power and the light of the Lord. If the Lord were to manifest Himself to a person who was not so prepared, that person would be overcome with awe.

The Hindus believe in ten incarnations of God:

  1. Machh,
  2. Kachhp,
  3. Vrah,
  4. Nrsinh,
  5. Vaman,
  6. Parshuram,
  7. Rama,
  8. Krishna,
  9. Buddha and
  10. Kalik.

All these incarnations are of the god Vishnu, but devotion to and worship of these ten incarnations is confined only to Rama, Krishna and Budha, because they incarnated as human beings. Hundreds of temples have been built in their memory. The other seven incarnations are not worshipped anywhere.

Similarly, amongst the Jains there is only one incarnation, called Tirthankar. The Christians also worship only one incarnation, named Christ. Amongst the Muslims it is said that the Lord made a human being and commanded even the angels to bow down before him and worship him. Worship of a human being in the form of the Master is also described by the Sufis. Man is the representative of God.

The Hindus believe that a man without a Guru – Master – can never attain salvation. Mohammedans of the Sunni sect also believe that there is no salvation without a Master.

Maulana Rumi says:

When the person of the Master hast thou accepted, in His person are included God and the Prophet.

Again, he says:

The true mosque is inside the beloved and noble souls of God. That is the true and real place to worship God. The mosque built out of water, earth and stone is for the spiritually ignorant people whose inner eyes are not open. The mosque of the lovers of God is in the heart. It is only the ignorant people who worship elsewhere. The beloved of the Lord remember Him by cleansing their minds and their hearts.

Kabir Sahib also expressed this idea in a slightly different language saying:

My mind has become a bird and has flown to the sky above. It found the heaven empty because He is ever in the hearts of His Saints.

We should consider this matter with a calm and clear mind. That is, true and intense love can be developed only for someone of one’s own species. This is a proven fact and cannot change. When God wishes to accept the love and worship of human beings, He comes in the form of a human being. In reality, Khuda – a Persian name of God – means ‚One who comes himself‘. Khud means ‚self‘ and a means ‚come‘.

The question will naturally arise whether devotion to a Guru or Master is the worship of a finite being, rather than of the Infinite Being who is the all-pervading Power. If one wishes to bathe in the sea, he will do so only at the seashore. The Guru is like the shore of an ocean of infinite spirituality where one can take the bath of Salvation.

To our limited understanding, the Master may appear to be finite. Actually, he is Infinite. He is the medium for attaining God-Realization. He is the medium for taking us from physical to astral, from astral to causal planes, and even further up – stage by stage – to the Unlimited Power – God – above, by means of his instructions and discourses.

If one were to assert that he worships and contemplates on the form of God, which is omnipresent, it can be said that at the most he contemplates on the form of a vacuum or of the ether. Besides, it is not visible to our sense of sight and it will not be helpful in awakening in us the currents of spirituality.

God is all-pervading. A thief steals, but the all-pervading Lord does not stop him from this evil act. The conscious power which stops one from doing such acts is that of the Master. He teaches, guides and helps. God is omnipresent, like electricity; but electricity cannot help us unless we make contact with it through a finite switch and thus connect ourselves with the source of the electricity. As soon as contact is made, light appears and even machines and factories are run by this power.

The relationship between beings of the same species has a great deal of power in this world for creating love and attraction. We are on the physical plane, and we can only love one who is also on this physical plane. We are human beings and we should love only a human being. We have not seen the Lord. How can we offer our love to Him? In other words, it is clear that in order to love the Lord we must love Him through one of His manifestations. Such a man is the Guru – Master.

A Master has two forms. Externally he is a human being; but internally he is, in fact, God. He is in the form of a human being outside; but he is God-in-man, or God-plus-man. He has contact with human beings on one side, and with the Lord on the other. From this point of view he has two aspects. One is that of a human being, and the other is that of God. His Real Form is Shabd. Shabd creates the physical body and dwells in It.

And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

St. John 1:14

A Master is the medium through which individuals are connected with God. In other words, Paramatma – God –, Shabd – Sound Current or Word –, and Guru – Master – are three different forms of the same Lord. If we offer devotion to Shabd in the physical form, which is the Guru, we are then immediately connected with the Lord inside. Devotion to the Guru is, in fact, true devotion to the Lord.

If we were to study the entire universe, we would see that man is at the top of creation.

The entire universe is your servant, and you are the Lord of this earth.

Adi Granth

Human beings are endowed with the gift of intelligence and discrimination to a far greater extent than all the other creatures in this world. All other creatures are, therefore, not worthy of our devotion. Actually, devotion to them would pull us down.

The question arises, why should a man worship another man? The answer is that there is a great difference between one man and another. A Guru has assumed the form of a man, but he is not an ordinary man. Internally he is always in conscious contact with God.

There is no other method of achieving spiritual progress except through devotion to a Guru. Without devotion to the Guru all other actions or religious practices are fruitless. Just as one does not become wealthy by getting wealth in his dreams, similarly, one’s acts, without devotion to the Guru, bear no fruit.

Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains – nobody can achieve eternal happiness and peace of mind without devotion to a Guru. Therefore, if one were to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of obtaining devotion to the Guru, it should be considered a cheap bargain, because that is the only method of meeting the Lord.

All religious scriptures and Saints have laid emphasis on the need for devotion to a Master, and maintain that this is a step towards meeting the Lord. But devotion must be steadfast. Then other practices will be beneficial. All other practices are useless without devotion to the Guru.

The Hindu Upanishads have also described the importance of Guru worship:

He alone meets the Lord who has created in his mind the highest form of devotion, and such devotion should be of the same intensity for the Guru as it is for the Lord.

Actually, it is not easy to meet a Master.

Kabir says:

Consider it a cheap bargain if you are able to meet a Master, even by sacrificing your own life.

Like the Lord, a Master has a finite and an infinite aspect, and it is by devotion alone that we are able to see him in both of these aspects. We can see the form of the Master through the eyes of our devotion. Then we shall see that the light of His eyes is spread over the entire universe.

A Master may be compared to an ocean, and a disciple to a rivulet that flows into and merges itself in the ocean. Thus the disciple completely loses his identity in the ocean-like spirituality of his Master.

Bhai Gur Das says:

A disciple should merge completely in his Guru like a dead body going into a grave.

In the Granth Sahib also we find the statement:

Merge yourself into the Guru.

This means that one has to forget one’s own identity and become one with the Guru.

Muinuddin Chishti says:

Nothing can be contained in me except my Guru, just as nobody else can enter the palace of a king.

So long as we do not complete our devotion to the physical form of the Master, we shall not be able to listen to the Shabd, nor shall we be able to meet the Lord.

By devotion to the Guru we are able to get rid of the worldly attachments. The gross attachments can be cut off only by means of Guru Bhakti – devotion to the Master –, and the finer attachments of the mind will be sublimated by means of Naam Bhakti – devotion to Naam or Shabd. Naam Bhakti can be obtained from no one but a Guru. So long as we do not meet a Guru, we cannot get Naam; and so long as we do not obtain Naam, the ties or cords binding our mind to the world cannot be cut.

Christ describes Guru Bhakti in the following words by giving an example:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.

As the father hath loved Me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love.

St. John 15:4,5,9

Just as a twig, when grafted to a tree, becomes one with the tree, and the life and energy of the tree become a part of the twig – in the same manner, those who have connected themselves with the Lord are completely one with Him. In other words, a twig that has not been grafted to a tree is separate from the tree. Accordingly, if we are not connected with the Guru, we are separate from Him. We should, therefore, ‚graft‘ ourselves onto a Guru – Godman –, and the result will be that all the qualities of God will be manifested in us.

A Gurumukh is a Devotee of the Lord (through devotion to his Guru). Such a devotee completely surrenders himself to his Guru and becomes one with him in exactly the same manner as water merges into water. He is in no way separate.

Internally, the devotee is ‚grafted‘ onto the Guru, and thus becomes free from death and fear. The Guru is Amrit – life-giving elixir – and a person who is immersed in Amrit can never fear death.

Guru and God are two different entities, but their Godhood is one. Similarly, the Guru and his devotee appear to be two different persons but they have one soul; that is, their souls are one, and when a devotee speaks, it is not he but the Guru who is speaking. His eyes show the spark of the Guru’s light. The Guru is always one with him.

Shamas-i-Tabriz very aptly describes the oneness of the Guru and his devotee in the following words:

I am thou. Thou art I. I am the body; thou art the life. So none can say that I am different from Thee.

Kabir Sahib expressed the same truth:

When ‘I’ was, Guru was not. Now Guru is, I am not. The lane of love is so narrow that it cannot contain two.

St. Paul also expressed his ideas about the oneness of the devotee and the Master:

I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.

Galatians 2:20

Hafiz spoke in a similar strain:

My heart has become so full of my Beloved (Master) that I have lost all idea in my mind of my own self.

He does not stop there but continues:

Every cell of my body has been captured by my Beloved (Master). My condition is that I really do not exist, because everything is He, He and He.

Devotion to the Master is intense love for him. If we love anybody, we serve him. We are prepared to sacrifice everything for him. Love knows no burden and no compulsion. A devotee gives away everything for the sake of his Beloved – his body, wealth, mind and soul; in fact, everything is surrendered at the altar of the Master. To serve the Guru is to be devoted to him.

The Master is also equally concerned about his disciple. He wishes the disciple to make progress in all respects. Sometimes he is angry with his disciple for his benefit, but the heart from which this seeming anger emanates contains a never-failing fountain of love for the disciple. The words may appear to be harsh but they are saturated with love. And it is for this reason that a devotee finds even these harsh words to be sweet. A sign of Guru Bhakti is that whenever a Guru uses harsh language or is angry, the disciple takes it to be sweet and is not offended.

A devotee has the greatest love for his Master. He lives and is happy in the Darshan – beholding – of his Guru. To be able to behold the Guru – have his Darshan – bestows an unique benefit. The gestures of the Guru enthral the mind of the disciple to such an extent that he is prepared to sacrifice himself for a glimpse of them. To Majnun, Laila appeared to be the most beautiful woman on the face of this earth.

Maulana Rumi says:

A devotee moves around his Guru with as much reverence and love as does a pilgrim going round a mosque. His mosque is the living body of his Master. He does not worship the dead or the idols, but he worships a living being. He is the companion of his Master because at all times he is thirsty for his Darshan (to behold his Master) and, like a compass, moves around the centre of his Master.

Maulana Rumi further states:

Even the Kaaba also moves around him (the Master). Oh God! What is about a Master that even the highest places of worship are insignificant before him.

Hafiz says:

Those who are saturated with love for their Master go to him with as much love and respect as do those who are going on a pilgrimage to the Kaaba.

He continues:

I am intensely in love with my Guru. What have I to do with religion or bigotry? I am restless in the pain of separation from him, so much that I have lost all consciousness of union or separation. The eye-brows of my Beloved (Master) are to me like the maihrab of the Kaaba. Why should I bother about anything else? A devotee does not consider anything in the world equal to his Guru. The beautiful gardens in paradise and the tooba (a life-giving tree in heaven), the palaces of the beautiful damsels there, cannot even approach a particle of dust from the lane of the Master. The Court of the Master is a treasure worth the entire wealth of the world, and the devotee cannot refrain from kissing the earth at the door of his house.

Bhai Nand Lal wrote:

To a faithful devotee his Guru is his world, and he is united with him. Both the worlds (this one and the one beyond) are too small a price to pay for even one hair of the Master.

Bhai Nand Lal also says:

Oh my Master, even the kings of the world cannot equal a beggar at Thy door!