The Guru-Disciple Relationship
The guru-disciple relationship is a defining characteristic of HIMMs. Followers of HIMMs consider the guru to be an enlightened human being or even a manifestation of God. Some of those who practice TM do not enter into a guru-disciple relationship with Maharishi, but many do. With SRF and Siddha Yoga, the guru-disciple relationship is foundational. When I asked meditators about their first encounter with their guru, the responses revealed that it was a life-changing event and often took them by surprise. Bryan’s response was typical:
I was at Encinitas, California, on a silent retreat. They have a very nice
dining room there with a large picture of Master [Yogananda] on one wall.
I was just sitting there, enjoying the peace of the place. All of a sudden
instead of it being a picture, it was as though he was really there. I thought,
“Oh my God, he’s really here.” He came through that strong. And I had a
feeling like I didn’t have to worry about anything. I’m part of his family. It
was so strong! I wanted to cry. I felt so accepted and loved. I felt held in
that presence. I’ve come to learn since then that that’s a real spiritual expe-
rience. It’s the most powerful thing that’s ever happened to me.
As I listened to people speak of their guru with devotion and reverence— many with tears in their eyes—I realized that the guru was experienced similarly by HIMM disciples, regardless of who the guru was. I wondered whether the source of this love came from within or from something the guru had conveyed to the person, and whether there was also an unspoken creed about the nature of the guru that they had learned, perhaps even subconsciously. I was also curious about how similar the traditional Hindu view of the guru was to that of Americans involved with HIMMs.
Gurus, as spiritual authorities who are often considered divine or semidivine, are a Hindu phenomenon, yet the concept of a spiritual master has antecedents in the Judeo-Christian worldview as well. For example, the Jew-