The Relationship of Chela and Guru
Miss Olive Hicks — My question is encouraged by Dr. Barker's lecture this morning, and I would like to ask this: I have understood from Mr. Flach's lecture that the Guru takes on himself the karma of the chela. Why and how is this possible; and if possible, is this not taking away the chela's free will and karma; and so if the chela is deprived of his karma would it not make his karma still harder?
A. Trevor Barker — This question of the Guru's being said to take upon himself the karma of his pupil can possibly give rise to a wrong conception. I believe the true understanding of this point is simply this, that when a Teacher begins to transfer to the consciousness of the pupil some of the occult truths of Nature, he becomes responsible if the pupil should make a wrong use of that knowledge to his own detriment and to the detriment of humanity in general. It is in that sense that a Teacher takes upon himself a very heavy responsibility indeed, and that is why such rigorous testing and training is demanded before it is thought safe for the Mahatma to make the close bonds between pupil and Teacher. It is not that he takes upon himself all the ordinary karma of the pupil; but on the contrary, if you look in The Mahatma Letters, (1) it says that if we all had scavengers to go behind us and clear up the ill effects of our rashness or presumption, the path of chelaship would be altogether too easy. They only help their chelas when the chelas are entirely innocent of the causes which landed them into difficulty. If by any chance any of us get into the situation where we could misuse knowledge that had been transferred to us, then we also have a very heavy responsibility and we don't lose any of that responsibility.
Dr. Siren — It seems to me that the question of gurus and chelas also may be considered as a relative one; sometimes the chelas may have to act as teachers, i. e. gurus, though not of the same degree as the further developed gurus. You who are speaking here are no doubt "gurus" for a number of less instructed people. It all depends on how you use the word "guru." You are at least teaching; you are opening a certain path for them, and you are giving them quite definite instructions regarding that path. Of course it is a preparatory stage; but nevertheless it is a stage on the path. I should think that you are, consciously or unconsciously, in the position of gurus in so far as you are awakening the higher side of these people's individual natures; a view that may throw some light on the relation between teachers and pupils. If the higher side of your nature is awakened, you will sooner or later become a kind of guru. It seems from one point of view a question of using words properly, and from another point of view a question of gradual evolution. I don't know whether Mr. Barker or anyone else would care, to go into it more in detail. My main contention would thus be, that as soon as the higher part, the spiritual or leading part, in the nature of an individual is awakened or aroused to conscious activity by the influence of another being, that other being is in the position of a guru in relation to his follower. Is that right?
A. T. Barker — I think that this is a rather thorny subject in some ways, because as Dr. Siren has very truly pointed out, a great deal depends on how you use this word "guru." There is one sense in which I can agree with him very easily, and that is the sense in which Mr. Judge described the Guruparampara-chain, that chain which even includes our school-teachers, who in this sense are part of the golden chain of teachers from whom we receive something. Now, if you want to understand it in that way, then anybody from whom you learn anything is in a position of a guru, the idea being that we should always treat such teachers with respect, so that we may learn from them in the best way. But I think I heard the statement (and the questioner was looking rather hard at me!) that anybody who is engaged in Theosophical work and who perhaps may be only the chairman of a study-class, is in the relationship of a guru. Well, now, except in the case that has just been mentioned, the Guruparampara-chain, there seems to me to be danger in this idea. If we people who are at best what H. P. B. called pupil-teachers, those having no right to dogmatize, adopt the role of guru, then many troubles can arise in the Theosophical Movement. There are a lot of these gurus loose in the world. I think it should be clearly understood that Theosophical lecturers, whether National Presidents or otherwise, are simply transmitters of information to the best of their spiritual ability; but they do not take the position of guru. That position is reserved, and very properly so, to the Leader of the Society who takes upon himself the role of Teacher, and declares that he has been authorized to teach. The rest of us who are not so authorized, but in whom the spiritual light has penetrated to some extent the lower darkness, can also help in our own spheres and become transmitters of light to others. But there is a disease called "guru-fever," and it is a very difficult complaint to cure.
1. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 310. (return to text)