Discovering a guru yoga practice
I started practising guru yoga about five years ago during a long, silent retreat. Funnily enough I wasn’t expecting the retreat to be particularly challenging. Had it not been, I doubt I would’ve developed this practice much at all. Fortunately I encountered quite a big obstacle in the first week – an imbalance in my subtle energy. This caused my mind to be disturbed for the entire 3 months, and compelled me to take whatever measures necessary to improve the situation
So what is guru yoga?
Well ‘guru’ refers to the spiritual guide or teacher and ‘yoga’ refers to a spiritual practice. In this context what I’m principally referring to is the communication and relationship that is developed between a teacher and a disciple
This as principally a non-physical relationship, however if we have the ability to be in direct contact with our spiritual guide this is wonderful. Because most of us presumably aren’t, then we need to learn to develop this relationship without them actually being physically present. We do this with the understanding that they are never-the-less with us all the time
My spiritual guide is Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a Tibetan monk and the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. I remember in the last festival he taught at, in Portugal 2013, near the end he said something along the lines of ‘if I were an enlightened being, I would be with you all the time… looking after you, watching over you, and caring for you.’
This really touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. At that time I was already relating to him to be an enlightened being, and so on one level I already knew that, in essence, he was with me all the time. However these beautiful words helped me to take this manifest truth more deeply into my heart. I believe his words were an expression of his own humility and deep wish for the happiness of his disciples
How did it evolve?
For me this practice has been incredibly powerful…. life-changing in fact. Having encountered the obstacle as described above on retreat, I felt I had little choice but to try and rely on my guru. I didn’t have anyone else to speak to given the retreat was silent. So this challenging situation compelled me to engage in the practice of guru yoga and I did so happily
Upon reflection, it principally evolved from engaging in a particular practice called ‘the 5 forces’ (more details can be found in the book Universal Compassion). Through relying on this practice I gradually experienced a deeper connection with my guru, applying continuous effort to rely on him more and more over time
How did I practise it?
I would simply imagine my spiritual guide in the space before me, recognise him as a buddha or fully enlightened being, set my motivation (the more pure the better) and then seek his advice
After retreat the practised lapsed for a while, but it wasn’t long before I picked it up again. After having initially engaged in the practice very diligently, it did subsequently deteriorate for a while. For example, I’d be in the supermarket and be like ‘Geshe-la what isle is the tomato sauce in?’. Subsequently I would get an indication and there it was (clearly not the ultimate purpose of the practice).
Training in guru yoga all the time
As it developed I would get advice on all sorts of things. Which job I should apply for or accept, whether I should move overseas to volunteer or continue working in Australia. What I should do with regards to challenging relationships or circumstances and so forth
Over time I noticed the responses I’d get from this intimate engagement arising more strongly. Initially it started as more of a feeling or intuition, then over time it evolved into an experience of waves of physical energy passing through my body
I try to rely on my guru all the time now. In this article I talk about how he helped me get down the trail of death, a difficult path in the mountains of France.
And the results…
When I engaged in the practice a feeling of peace and a clarity would naturally arise. I felt like the advice I was given made sense, or at least if not initially then it would later on, and it would become clear why I needed to take it
Over time, as I consistently received reliable and beneficial advice, there could be no doubt that the instructions were coming from the wisdom of an omniscient mind. After engaging in the practice hundreds…. thousands of times over the years, I developed a great confidence in it
As is to be expected when engaging in a spiritual path, it’s likely we will find ourself encountering greater challenges over time. This helps us to make progress and compels us to dig deeper within. In turn this encourages us to rely more deeply on our spiritual guide
This may eventually mean getting advice that could, superficially at least, appear to contradict this teachings. However if the connection is deep and pure, then through faith and perseverance the truth of the advice being given will be understood, and we’ll have the confidence to follow it
Approaching your guru yoga practice
We should always cherish our practice of guru yoga, to whatever degree we experience it and connect with our guru. Through applying gentle effort over time, as with anything, the results will gradually be revealed
By purely relying on the guru’s instructions, we will start to experience a great power from within…. ultimately we realise it has the power to destroy our ordinary, limited self….. creating the space for our pure nature to emerge
If we train in our guru yoga practice with faith then we’ll be able to quickly dispel any doubt as to whether or not we’re actually communicating with our spiritual guide. By applying consistent and joyful effort over time our practice will gain a great depth and our faith and reliance will propel us on our spiritual path until we attain our final goal