It seems to be a popular conception that if you wish to adopt the spiritual path, at some stage you will need a teacher. You seem to be saying that one cannot teach another. Where does the Guru come in?
Like a midwife. The midwife cannot deliver the baby, yet in a manner of speaking she does. Let us start at the beginning. You are already marching on the spiritual path, according to yourself. How did you get started on it without a teacher? Somewhere, something hit you and pushed you onto this path. That is already a teacher. It may be human, it may be divine, it may be subhuman, or it may be an incident in my life. That is what initiation means. I’m given a push. So the Guru or teacher may or may not be a human person. In the Bhagavatam there is the story of someone who says he had twenty-four gurus – the sun, moon, wind, stars, stones, etc. All of them taught him some lesson.
So, to begin with, you are pushed onto the spiritual path by somebody or some non-body, and then from there it depends entirely upon you. If you are awake and alert, then human or non-human agencies can teach you. Do you see the difficulty there though? It is a dual action. By myself alone I may not have noticed the truth, but I must be awake in order that you may teach me, and I must be speaking the same language as you before you can teach me. Only if I am open to what you say, can you teach me. If I am truly open to knowledge, I can learn from anything.
But I still need the other agency. I must be open and at the same time the other agency must be there; the two working together make for the teaching. Once again we have split this into two or three nice little compartments. One school of thought says that all learning happens within; another school of thought says, “Nonsense, a teacher is necessary.” But very few people really suggest that it is the interaction that really works.
Swami Sivananda had a clever motto. He said that as a student you must have a teacher, you must be taught by a Guru. If you do not have a Guru, you are sunk. Then he turned to the Gurus and said, “If you have any disciples, you are all idiots.”
What do I do? The Gurus are not supposed to have any disciples, but the disciples are lost unless they have Gurus. That is the idea. The Guru has no business to feel that He is teaching you. And the student must feel that either he is my Guru, or that everything is my Guru.
The Buddhists have the same thing in the Diamond Sutra. A bodhisattva must vow that, “I will liberate all beings, and I will not look for nirvana until I have liberated all living beings,” but at the same time he must know that he can liberate none. I can do nothing. The two attitudes together is wisdom. It is not ‘either-or’, it is ‘neither-nor’.