It is not necessary to meet your guru on the physical plane. The guru is not external.
-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)
For me, the Guru is how God becomes personal. The Guru shows me that God is not just an Eternal, Impartial, Truth, or even an All-Pervading Essence of Love, but is also a Being who loves me and all of us unconditionally. Before meeting the Guru, I had faith in God, but not a personal relationship. It was the Guru that gave that to me. Now I see that the lines of the Guru Stotram are true: “There is no truth higher than the Guru, no practice higher than the Guru, and no knowledge higher than the Guru.”
For some of us the Guru can take the form of a physical person on earth. When you look at Them, all you see is the divine radiance of God shining through. This Divine Presence is within all of us as our True Nature, but it is clouded by a web of desire and self-identification. When we have found refuge in a Guru, their incarnation becomes a channel for our own deepest wisdom to become manifest. The voice of God is heard in Their words, and Their body is a living Murti. Their very life is the wisdom of the Vedas.
Such a Being cannot die. Their physical body may fall away, but the God within was never confined to that body anyway. We can still use Their form to connect with Them. We can look at Their pictures, sing to Them, travel to Their temples, and experience Their Grace through satsang with other devotees. The Guru shows Their devotees that They are still here, often times through dreams, synchronicities or miracles, but always through an inner knowing of the heart.
“When two or three people gather in my name, I am there” Christ (Matt 18:20).
The personal relationship with Christ experienced by many members of the Christian faith could be seen as an example of this. For me and for other members of the Neem Karoli Baba satsang, we refer to our Guru as Maharajji, a Siddha that left His body in 1973. Of course, if we don’t feel called to a specific form of the Guru, we can still connect to Her.
The Universal Guru is the God within every heart, and we can connect to Him by reading about any of the saints we are drawn to. Each one is a different mask of God, as if She just swaps bodies the way we might change clothes. This analogy took on new meaning for me the day I met Ram Dass for the first time. Still jolted by the Shakti of that encounter, I had a vision that night as I fell asleep on the beach. I saw two figures hovering in front of me, Jesus and Maharajji. They were both levitating a few feet off the ground, and a subtle light illuminated their bodies as they each shapeshifted back and forth into each others’ forms. Jesus would turn into Maharajji at the same moment that Maharajji would turn into Christ. This lasted for maybe 5-10 seconds, and then I fell asleep.
Some of us might not require any form. Since the Guru is within, if we are truly quiet, we can hear that still, small voice. The moments when I am connected to my intuitive heart are when I can most clearly see that the Guru guides every step of the journey.
I remember a dream I had shortly before I moved in to live with Ram Dass. Maharajji and I were both in a room together. He was barking ridiculous orders at me, and I was blissfully complying with all of them. “Bend over! Now point one arm up towards the sky! Point the other arm down! Spin in a circle! Now walk backwards!” We both laughed hysterically as my body spun around in the most awkward shape. I woke up from that dream in a state of incomparable joy. The message was clear- Maharajji is the puppet master, I am the puppet, and this dance we enact together is one full of rich, cosmic humor.
Even moments of confusion are the Guru doing His needed work. In suffering I find I am often ripped away into the deepest surrender. It is these moments that I cling to the Guru, not as a spiritual practice or an exercise in devotion or faith, but out of necessity. Sometimes it feels like hanging on for dear life. Other times it’s like I’m completely helpless to do anything, and yet there the Guru is, holding me when I can no longer hold on to anything.
“You can leave me. I won’t leave you. Once I catch hold of you, I don’t let go.”
-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)
This is Guru Kripa, or the Grace of the Guru. It is the realization that we are His, that the Guru has us wrapped up in Her warm embrace, that every aspect of our lives serves to draw us towards Them. All we need to do is listen to our heart, and, even when we forget, that too is a part of the Perfection that is the Grace of the Guru. It is through this Grace that we gain faith. This faith is not the same as a belief. Belief is in the mind, but faith is deeper than that. It is a knowing of the heart that the Grace of the Guru is with us every step of the way.