Although the Shruti holds a position of the utmost importance in the practice of the Vedantic ideal, we can see that it is not easy to understand its appeal. The meaning is not in the words of Shruti; its real essence is the great experience of the Sage which, it describes.
We cannot know the real meaning of Shruti and its secret without the help of one who has himself experienced the substance of the meaning of it. In his commentary on the Kena Upanishad (1.3.) Shri Shankara says:-
“Brahman is cognised by repeated instruction of the Acharya. It is not ‘ subject to comprehension through arguments, intellectual explanation, austerity, sacrifice, etc.”
And he says further in his commentary on Chandogya Upanishad (4.9.3.):-
“Brahman is cognised only through the direct teaching of the Acharya”,
Brahman-cognition is a spiritual experience which is hinted at in the Upanishad. It is to be understood only by the Shastra as explained by the Acharya. One must take his Diksha from a Guru who is traditional before he is able to know the real meaning of Shruti.
By laying down that it is essential to follow a Guru and give him loving service, it was not intended to establish the sovereignty of the learned; the object was to make the holy path, which is indeed difficult to tread, easier for the disciples. The Guru does not trespass on the independence of the disciple but, by giving him the Dikshas and yet freedom of thought, he teaches him how to think under the light of his own experience and not only from bookish learning. It is nonsense to preach that we can obtain the knowledge of truth by our own labours, independent of any other person. The fact is that there is no external instrument of the attainment of Jivan-Mukti.
The loving contact with an experienced Acharya is the highest and only means to obtain the ontological end.
An Acharya who is traditionally connected with the high truth, which he has experienced himself, electrifies the heart of a disciple if the disciple is fully devoted to him. The heart of a disciple in the beginning is shrouded by the darkness of nescience (Avidya) and it is contact with the Guru on right and proper lines which pierces it with the rays of knowledge. It is clear that high literature, painting, music and other arts cannot be learnt by mere study of books. It is the living touch with a teacher which enlightens our heart with the secret of an art. What is true in the case of aesthetics is equally true in the spiritual realm. A lamp is lighted only from a lighted lamp and not by mere words and books.
In Vedanta the great importance of Guruhood is in the form of the experience of the higher Self. It has been noticed that the great Acharyas, like the trees bent low under the burden of their fruit, were humble. Still in some cases it is seen that they tested their disciples. No disciple was really accepted for Diksha (initiation) until he proved himself worthy of it. They expected a high standard of discipline but no true disciple was deprived of the opportunities of the knowledge of Brahman. In one of the Upanishads the Acharya exhorts the pupil as follows: “Practise those actions which are based on Truth and not on show and individual profit. Follow my good behaviour and not others. If you find any Brahmins who are devoted to the spiritual Truth give them your highest respect”. (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11.)
It was not considered adequate only to receive Diksha in the knowledge of Brahman based on the dictates of the holy Shruti. It was essential that the disciple should cogitate on the elements of truth imparted to him, all the time, in order to obtain Brahman-cognition. Shruti and the Guru are mere aids in the path of Brahman-cognition. They do not intrude upon the freedom of thought and the freedom of moral action. Logical thinking and reasoning in a given measure are not considered contrary to Brahman- cognition.
The possibility of direct cognition of Self depends on Manana, the chief purpose of which is to understand by mental processes the meaning of the Shruti which implies the identity of Jiva and Brahman. Shruti can throw light on the Truth but it cannot give us the inner eyes to see the Truth. The Guru only shows the path to spiritual cognition but to walk it well and speedily is in the power of the Yogi himself. It is clear that both Shruti and Acharya are necessary; but Niddhidhyasana is equally if not more important. The spiritual experience of the cognition of Self is possible only through Niddhidhyasana.
Let us understand from Shri Shankaracharya himself the system of the cognition of Self. First the Truth is known from the Shruti and the Acharya. Then follows reasoning and logical corroboration and in the end it is the spiritual contemplation or Niddhidhyasana which leads to the direct experience. This is the complete course of the Yoga.
Index for this series of essays