By Alan C. Haras
“Fire exists in the firewood, coal and charcoal, but without ignition from a spark of fire from without it cannot burn. So the forces Divine within you do not grow without the impulse from the Preceptor.”
~Yogi Gupta (Sri Swami Kailashananda), from Yoga & Yogic Powers, p.46
There is an ancient tradition practiced by some yogis to continually tend a sacred fire. This dhuni fire represents the fire of self-knowledge and it reduces all apparent phenomenon into a single, irreducible essence. This sacred ash, or vibhuti, is often given to others seekers as prasad – a blessed and healing substance. It is the duty of such yogis to keep this sacred fire going, offering the benefits of their dedicated practice as a healing remedy to all beings.
As sadhakas, we are all tending the sacred fire that we have received from our Guru at the time of initiation. The Sanskrit word for “initiation” is diksha, which means “to ignite,” and interestingly enough, the English word “ignite” is related to the Sanskrit word agni – meaning “divine fire.” A yogi who seeks initiation from a guru is seeking to be ignited by the sacred fire or “spiritual impulse” of the guru. This invisible power is a “quickening” agent that speeds up the spiritual progress of the disciple.
We all contain within us great treasures of spiritual forces, but they typically remain asleep until awakened by the grace of the guru. This grace cannot be received from any book. In Yoga and Yogic Powers, Yogi Gupta says, “By reading the menu, your hunger cannot be satisfied.” Similarly, any amount of reading about spiritual topics will not satisfy our spiritual hunger. We must seek out a qualified Preceptor, and in receiving instructions from him or her, become receptive to the transmission of this spiritual impulse.
All genuine gurus have received this divine spark from their teacher. Having received the blessing of the spiritual impulse, they continued to cultivate that sacred fire through their own sadhana, or spiritual practice. It is not enough simply to “get” initiation – one must “give” themselves to their practice. In this sense, initiation marks a new beginning. One entrusted with the sacred fire becomes responsible for tending it and making it grow. “Being initiated” means “becoming a disciple” and making the life-long commitment to the path of self-realization.
The word “disciple” comes from the Latin root discere which means “to learn.” All are able to learn, but each individual learns at his or her own rate. According to Swami Sivananda, an individual’s capacity is based upon their readiness to receive the divine spark of the guru’s instructions. Some, he says, are like gunpowder – when the fire of knowledge is brought near to them, they are instantly ablaze with realization. Others are like charcoal, who need only a little time in the presence of fire before they are completely consumed and transformed. Still others are like dry firewood and need to stay in the fire a little while longer. And then there are those who are like wet firewood – when they are in the presence of Truth, all they do is “smoke.” This kind of disciple will need ample time to “dry out” before any real learning is possible.
If we approach a fire without proper respect, it is possible that we could get burned – not through any intention made by the fire, but simply through our own inattention. And yet, if we stay too far away, we won’t be able to enjoy the warmth that the fire provides. Similarly, when a disciple approaches a guru with the divine qualities of reverence, humility and obedience, her or she is able to receive the spiritual impulse of the teacher. Yogi Gupta says that this impulse is the “energized thought” of the teacher, and although it is invisible, it is “far more powerful than electricity.”
One receives the spiritual impulse through transmission. The Guru received it from his or her Guru, and blesses the disciples with that same impulse upon their initiation. It is like a lit candle passing the flame to an unlit candle – it is now up to the disciple to protect that flame, keep it burning brightly, and eventually, to pass on the living flame to a qualified disciple. The flame does not belong to anyone, but is pure grace; the pure gift of the enlightened teachers to those who are sincerely seeking Self-Realization. It is transmitted through the Guru’s presence and teachings, and is received only by those who have cultivated the necessary qualities of a disciple.
Alan C. Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion Michigan, a commissioned Spiritual Director in the tradition of Ignatian Spirituality, and a disciple of Sri Dharma Mittra. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Religion Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, and completing his 800-hour Advanced Dharma Yoga Teacher Certification.