For many of us, we have spent the majority of our lives identifying ourselves with and defining ourselves from the material world that surrounds us. Great masters that have transcended the world of matter, names and forms have taught the rest of us that the tools that we use to collect information, namely, the mind, intellect and senses, are limited. Therefore, these tools cannot answer the deeper transcendental questions in life such as: What is the purpose of life? Where am I going? What happens to me after death?
During deep states of meditation, the ancient yogis discovered the answers to these questions. They realized that this human birth is a high blessing because it is within the vehicle of the body that we can realize our essential nature. Life is not a continual cycle of bouncing back and forth between pain and pleasure. Life is an opportunity.
The sages and seers that have realized the Self, have compassionately passed this knowledge down to us and devised the science of yoga. These sages realized that beyond the process of birth, growth, change, decay and death, beyond the pain and sufferings of life, there is eternal peace. The yogis refer to this state as Satchidananada: Existence, Knowledge, Bliss Absolute.
Swami Satyananda explains in his book, “Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha,” that yoga arose at the beginning of human civilization when man realized his ‘spiritual potential’ and began to cultivate techniques to develop this potential. He continues to say that during ancient times, yoga was kept secret from the general population. Knowledge was passed down orally from teacher (guru) to the sincere student or aspirant (sadhaka). Knowledge was revealed to the sadhaka only when the guru felt that the disciple was ready to receive it.Today we have access to knowledge at our fingertips. Although this creates many opportunities for human civilization, it also creates an information overload. There are many resources about yoga available to the practitioner. In this vast ocean of information, it can be overwhelming and confusing to know where to turn when you are looking for guidance. However, in our search for growth and evolution, we fall into the trap of looking externally for someone else to tell us what to do. Looking outside of ourselves for knowledge will never amount to what we can learn by looking within.
As students of yoga, we all need a teacher. We need help to lay the foundation for our practice. But once that foundation is in place, it is up to us to do the work. Dedication is essential for any progress on the yogic path. For many of us, we find that our heart may want to do the work, but the mind can be rather resistant. The mind has had a life long opportunity of exerting itself sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. When the sadhaka begins the journey of training the mind, the mind begins to come up with many, many reasons of why meditating and taking care of the body can wait until tomorrow.
Each of us is here on our journey at a different starting point. For some beings, very little work is needed to reach the highest stage of yoga. These are rare individuals and they are considered to be “gunpowder students.” It takes a very short period of work (or a spark to ignite the gunpowder) until these individuals realize Oneness. (Sattvic Student A)
There are some individuals that are highly evolved and are able to distinguish the real from the unreal because they possess discrimination or viveka. These individuals understand the impermanence of relationships, objects and situations. With this understanding, it is easier to avoid being tangled in the attachment to people, things and situations. The evolved person becomes dispassionate (vairagya) towards the things that most of us spend our lives chasing after. This student understands the importance of dedication and discipline. This student finds a teacher to help her advance in and bring more clarity to the teachings, but she does not follow blindly. She exerts and asks questions. The teacher may not be able to satisfy the student’s intellect fully, but as she evolves, the full meaning of the teachings will be understood through her direct experience. The ‘dry wood’ student knows that her growth is in her own hands. For this student, the wood catches fire easily. (Sattvic Student B)
A ‘wet wood’ student is the student that likes the word ‘my’. ‘My teacher,’ ‘my religion,’ ‘my God.’ This student likes to preach more than she likes to practice. This student is unable to see the Oneness that underlies all of the world’s religions and spiritual paths. One point that yoga is very clear about, the paths are many, but the truth is One. Each of us has a different temperament and will thus be inspired in different ways. This is why there are so many different methods to Self-Realization in the yoga system. The wet wood student cannot see past the form of the teacher and is emotionally attached. If the teacher’s attitude changes toward the student, the student will be offended and perhaps abandon that path all together. For this student, the wood takes awhile to catch fire. The fire often goes out or smolders. (Rajasic Student)
The ‘green wood’ student is the student that argues with the teacher just for the sake of arguing. This student is not interested in discipline and there is no discrimination. This is the student that comes to class with expectations and assumptions. When the teacher does not meet the expectations, the student refuses to follow the class. When a student comes to class already filled with preconceived notions, there are no teachings that will get through. For the green wood student, there is no fire. (Tamasic Student)
There are different types of teachers just as there are different types of students. There are the highest of teachers, the masters, and they are shining examples of the teachings. These teachers are devoid of hypocrisy and are unaffected by praise or criticism. Examples of such teachers would be Buddha, Jesus, Ramakrishna, Swami Sivananda, Dalai Lama, Ghandhiji. (Sattvic Teacher A)
The second type of teacher has experienced the silence within and has studied the scriptures. This teacher’s inner experience and attitude corresponds to the message of the scriptures. This teacher evolves with her students. (Sattvic Teacher B)
The third type of teacher has followers that can often be fanatical. This teacher is theatrical and will try to control her followers by emotionally manipulating them. This teacher does not practice what they preach. (Rajasic Teacher)
The fourth teacher is the teacher that does everything to serve her own purpose. This teacher is seeking sensual pleasure. (Tamasic Teacher).