The ideals of teachers and disciples vary in different cultures. 'There are hundreds of teachers, but it is hard to find one true disciple', so goes a saying. The single most important qualification to attain spirituality is the attitude of the pupil. Right attitude opens up the door to spirituality, and that attitude is to accept that 'my true nature is divine and I have to realize this divinity within'.
Yet, how difficult it is to realize this self-evident truth! Ages and ages pass before we begin to catch a faint glimpse of it. God is truth; we hear about this, some even write volumes about this! But in reality we do not see God. All our actions betray our confusion and disregard for this Truth. It may be that in the heart of our hearts we do not want to attain truth! An occasional soul, defying all these constrains, wants to realize this truth and overcome illusion, and such a yearning soul is a fit person to become a disciple.
To become a disciple great preparations are necessary and many conditions must be fulfilled. Following are the five important conditions laid down by the Vedantins.
The sincere aspirant must give up all the desires for gain in this world, and in the life to come. Even comforts of the heaven should not tempt him to deviate from the path.
Desires indicate want and incompleteness. But this is a falsehood. According to Vedanta we are always full and do not want anything. All knowledge and bliss is our own; we are that. Then to hanker after illusory riches and luxuries, to brood over the condition of the world, or to attempt to improve the social conditions is but ignorance. The world and the heaven are but related to senses. Happiness and pleasure derived there from are only transitory and incomplete. Therefore, the disciple giving up all such falsehood seeks to know the truth and truth alone.
The second condition is that the disciple must be able to control the internal and external senses.
External senses are visible organs situated in different parts of the body, such as eyes, ears, nose, etc. internal sense organs are corresponding centers of sense perception situated in the brain. We constantly react to the activities of these groups of senses. It is quite obvious that if the sense objects such as beautiful person or scenery are nearby, our visual sense organ is drawn to them. The same is the case with music and sound, fragrance and smell, flavor and taste, touch and contacts. Good or bad, pleasurable or painful, wanted or unwanted we have to react to these sense perceptions; we cannot escape the stimuli. Even though we close our eyes still internal organ of visual perception conjures up dreams and world of imagination. In short, there is no escape in waking or sleeping state.
The disciple must be able to bring all these senses under his/her control. Is it possible? Yes, with repeated practice - Abhyasa, right conduct - Sadachar, and discrimination - Viveka it is possible to severe connection between internal sense organs and corresponding external sense objects. In Yoga parlance, this is known asPratyahara. It is the function of concentration of mind. One example can be cited. If one is totally immersed in reading a book, the person does not hear the chimes of the bell or the clock although the sound is reaching the ears! Moreover, he is also not aware of the lapse of time nor does he notice his family members entering and leaving the room. This self control and concentration of mind helps in the process ofPratyahara.
Instead of being a slave to the mind, the disciple should cultivate such qualities as would enable him/her to control the mind at will. If he does not want to smell he should be able to overcome the sense of smell! His mind should not react to offensive or pleasant smell. This calls for great power of endurance, forbearance, also called astitiksha. The mind naturally seeks comfort and behaves well when everything goes well according to one's liking. But the moment something goes awry, the moment any desire gets obstacle in its fulfillment, it loses its balance. Despondency, anger, frustration, and restlessness follow. Therefore, it is necessary to bear witness to good and bad, joyful and miserable conditions with equidistant poise. One should practice this by not reacting to the internal and external stimuli. Bear all miseries and evil without any murmur of hurt, without any thought of unhappiness, without any resistance, remedy or retaliation.
The third qualification is that the disciple must have faith in the words of the Guru (teacher). He must have conviction that the teacher one has chosen (or the other way round) is not just a human being. He is the spirit incarnate for his liberation. Out of compassion and love the Absolute Consciousness, Knowledge, and Bliss has taken the form of the Guru to lead the disciple from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, and from mortality to immortality.
Therefore, once the student has accepted discipleship, the first reverence should be to Guru, and then to parents. Parents give the body; Guru frees the soul. Guru knows what the disciple needs; he knows the ability, capacity, and the aptitude of his disciple. Initially, therefore, the teachings may appear contrary to the expectations and liking of the disciple, but the disciple must follow, obey, and persevere in the orders, suggestions, and teachings of the Guru. This is called faith. If the teacher asks him to jump from a hilltop, the disciple must first jump and then question the rationality of such an order.
The fourth condition is that the disciple must have intense yearning to be free, called as mumukshattva. Other than this, all other desires bind the soul and therefore should be relegated to the background. 'Desire is never satiated by enjoyment; enjoyment only acts as the fuel to fire.' Desire is increased by desire. Our natural constitution prevents us to understand this fact; only Guru can extradite us from this cycle of desires - of birth and death.
The last condition of discipleship is the discrimination between real and unreal. God alone is real; rest is unreal and transient. All the time the mind should labor on this thought with full devotion and dedication to the Guru. God only exists; everything else comes and goes. Therefore, the disciple should seek only what is permanent and should strive to become one with it. 'I am not this body; I am not this mind; I am That, I am That' this alone should be the mantra for a true disciple.
All these conditions initially appear awesome. One surely says, 'this is too much.' To find even a single disciple who would accept and adhere to such stringent conditions appears impossible. In such a situation, rather than criticizing, it is better for a disciple to say, "I cannot do it; that it is the ideal I accept, but I am not yet ready to follow it." And just by showing such sincerity, honesty, and humility, the fellow becomes fit for the discipleship!