The Path of the Student
I am a student and always will be. Though I have had the good fortune to teach others, it is only because I am a student. To continue being a student and thus continue growing is essential. This article explores the student's path.
There are many doors to enter yoga that excite and encourage. Many feel certain changes happen just from a few yoga classes a week. Without one even realising or planning for it, there comes a point where the next step to growth is unavoidable. It is at this point that one becomes a "student" and the impact of yoga will begin. This impact can not be thought of or imagined, it can only be experienced. Its effect is subtle yet powerfully transformational, where the personality of the student refines and grows. The signs are noticed in your behaviour, thoughts and actions.
Where is this point of impact? And when does one really and authentically don the student's shoes? From something within, one bows down to the teacher and teachings. Physically and mentally, one becomes ready to embark on the learning, unconditionally and studentship commence.
A combination of dedication and humility open our door, allowing what the teacher is giving to enter and have an impact. It is this that makes it an inner or spiritual process. At this point one becomes a student as opposed to a recreational practitioner. This is how the great sage Patanjali opens up the science and study of yoga in the Yoga Sutras. "Atha Yoganushasanam" (Yoga Sutra I.1) very powerfully states that now, having finished with one's musings and frivolities, one is ready to embark on the complete practice and study of yoga.
Paul Brunton's A Search in Secret India is a beautiful account of his own search in the 1930s and the different spiritual (or not) characters he met. He clearly states that a certain discrimination was needed to weed through the self-styled masters, who are more a product of slick ego, self-delusion and group hysteria than real spirituality. He spent time looking at the different teachings with an open yet critical mind and heart. There were some real ones, and one stood out as his teacher.
Paul's cleverness, intelligent questioning and cynicism subsided and a strong desire to bow down his head and ready himself for experience became apparent. For it is only through practice under an experienced and authentic teacher that the impact of yoga can be experienced.
How do we discern a teacher? Use your intelligence and learn how to read your heart. So, yes there will be feelings, accompanied by grounding or steadiness. One should ask what is this person's background? How long have they studied, with who and what? What is the tradition behind it? How do they behave and live? Through this is revealed experience, knowledge, humility and reverence to their own teacher. Another indication is that they mention a main teacher as opposed to a string of the latest and greatest names. They themselves should be a student under an able teacher. Their attention and energy focused on practicing their teacher's teachings, rather than running from one to the next. The journey inward is so subtle that at the key stages this teacher is needed. But it must be met with the readiness of the student.
Shraddha is the Sanskrit word for a student embarking on the path. Consider it a full and complete embrace by the student to the teachings, with every cell of their being. As the student embraces the teachings with heart, mind and spirit, putting themselves in a place to learn from the teacher and that tradition, the impact begins to flow.
In my own experience, unless dedication, devotion, humility rose, I made no progress. I realised I knew nothing and all my clever manoeuvers and mixings of teachings were having little impact. When I bowed down to the teacher and the teachings, the process flowed. The best way I can describe it is: a full embrace with all my being. This embrace, with determination, comes from the student and is anchored to authentic and good teachers and teachings.
This is what I would hope for you as you grow, allowing yoga's impact strike you. Search, then bow down and embrace it one hundred percent. Be strong and stick with it. No fear.
In this modern era of yoga we are gifted with the true and authentic traditions of Krishnamacharya and Kuvalayananda. Indeed the search here is for one who has learnt, practiced, understood and experienced what these teachers have offered.
There is a saying: when the student is ready the teacher appears. The key is that the student must make the initial effort. There are a variety of teachers along the way from whom to learn from them and establish a practice. Only after dedicating myself and growing in practice did I meet my guru. I was ready to hear what he had to say and do what he would teach me. I have followed his words and advice to the letter for the last 10 years. This has made the difference. Before that it was my own limitations, but finally ego was ready to bow down and let the learning occur. Even so it takes efforts by the student. This is how a "guru" shows up in one's life.
Paul is director of Centered Yoga and Yoga Thailand.
Reprinted with permission from Namaskar.