Classical Yoga: The Guru-Shishya Paramparya

This week, we look at the method of transmission, at how yoga was passed on for thousands of years through the unique Guru-shishya paramparya.
The Guru-Shishya

Isha seeks to bring back classical yoga in its purest form – not studio yoga, book yoga or the various innovations that are brought in around the world without any understanding of basic principles – but proper classical yoga, which is a phenomenally powerful science. It is a system that is precisely and meticulously put together as a means of reaching higher dimensions.

Our first article in the “Classical Yoga” series was on the basic unit of Hatha Yoga – the Asana, and then, we looked at the being who introduced yoga to humankind, Adiyogi, the first yogi, followed by a tribute to the Father of Modern Yoga – Patanjali. This week, we look at the method of transmission, at how yoga was passed on for thousands of years through the unique Guru-shishya paramparya.

The Guru-shishya paramparya thrived and flourished for thousands of years in India. In this culture, when there was a need to convey subtle and powerful knowledge, it was always done in an atmosphere of utter trust, dedication, and intimacy between the Guru (Master) and the shishya (disciple). “Parampara” is literally defined as “an uninterrupted tradition” – in other words, it denotes an unbroken lineage of imparted knowledge.

Describing the tradition, Sadhguru says: “India is the only place where this kind of tradition existed. That is, one person realizes something, and he looks for somebody who is truly dedicated, who holds this truth above his life. He looks for such a person and transmits it to him. This person looks for another like that and transmits it to him. This chain continued for thousands of years without a single break. This is known as Guru-shishya paramparya.”

Though they knew writing, spiritual aspects of life were never written down because once you write, all the wrong kinds of people will read it and misinterpret it. Only a person who is in a certain level of experience should know it; others should not. That is how it was transmitted. Only when the Guru-shishya paramparya started breaking up, did they start writing down the spiritual truths. Until then it was never written down. Once you write it, the first people who are going to read these books are the scholars. Once it gets into the scholars’ hands, it is finished. Truth is over.”

The science of yoga is all about making a person transcend the five sense organs and know one’s ultimate nature. In order to do this, it is important that he has the necessary energy support. Sadhguru explains: “That which is not in your experience cannot be taught to you intellectually. It can only be taught to you by taking you to a different dimension of experience. To take a person from one dimension of experience to another, you need a tool or a device, which is of a higher level of intensity and energy than you are right now. That device is what we call as the guru.”

“A guru is not a teacher. The Guru-shishya relationship is on an energy basis. He touches you in a dimension where nobody else can. There is a space where nobody else – your husband, your wife, your child, your parent – can touch you. They can only touch you in your emotion, your mind or your body. If you want to reach the very peak of your consciousness, you need lot of energy – all the energy you have and more. A Guru-shishya relationship has become so sacred and important because when the crisis moment comes in a disciple's growth, he needs a little push on the energy level. Without that push, he doesn’t have the necessary energy to reach the peak. Only someone who is on a higher plane than yourself can give that little push to you. Nobody else.”

Sadhguru has created many tools that assist the transmission of yoga. As we will see in the next segment of the “Classical Yoga” series, the spectacular Adiyogi Alayam was consecrated to be a powerful space for the transmission of classical yoga. However, in the context of the Guru-shishya tradition, Sadhguru talks of the value of another tool: “Because the Guru-shishya paramparya is breaking up, the Dhyanalinga is a tremendous tool in that direction. It is not a deity, it is just a tool. If you are willing to just sit there for a few minutes, you will see it does things to you. Even a person who is totally ignorant of meditation, who has no awareness of meditation, if he sits there, he will become meditative within a few minutes. Once he has been in the sphere of Dhyanalinga, wherever he sits, he naturally becomes meditative.”

Editor’s Note: Isha Hatha Yoga programs are an extensive exploration of classical hatha yoga, which revive various dimensions of this ancient science that are largely absent in the world today. These programs offer an unparalleled opportunity to explore Upa-yoga, Angamardana, Surya Kriya, Surya Shakti, Yogasanas and Bhuta Shuddhi, among other potent yogic practices.

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7 years 3 months ago

Thankyou Kannan. India is of Course the Mother of all Dharmic Cultures and that is the spirit of what Sadhguru is saying.. It is my understanding that the First Yoga class was held at Mount Kailash and given to the Sapta Rishis who diseminated it in all directions. So Tibet has to be included in this Guru Shishya Parampara as Shiva is after all the Adi Yogi . I am sure Sadhguru doesnt want us to 'believe' everything he says but to experience everything He is.

7 years 3 months ago

Wonderful stuff . However I dont think it is fair to say only India had the Guru Shisya parampara .Surely other Dharmic cultures such as Tibetan Buddhism also had this tradition . Sadhguru said " “India is the only place where this kind of tradition existed. That is, one person realizes something, and he looks for somebody who is truly dedicated, who holds this truth above his life. He looks for such a person and transmits it to him. This person looks for another like that and transmits it to him. " Having studied Tibetan Buddhism in some depth I can affirm that they also had this exact tradition. You could call it Yogic culture or the Siddha tradition which straddled India and surrounding himalayan kingdoms . So does anyone wish to defend Sadhgurus position (or qualify it) that India was the ONLY place this existed?

7 years 2 months ago

There is just something about classical yoga that makes it astonishing. I perceive of it as something very spiritual which is far different from the typical studio yoga that we know of today. This is a great read because it has opened my eyes to learning deeper things about yoga.

7 years 3 months ago

not at all thomas stacey... but origin of buddhism is india right?

7 years 2 months ago

there are lot of schools of zen did have a continuous lineage. some were not that fortunate. thats why some of them try to attain over several lifetimes as they do not have a live guru to see them trough

7 years 3 months ago

Beautiful article on Guru Shishya parampariyam.Guru Shishya Parampara is an alchemical process of transmission where the Guru state of being transforms the state of being of the Shishya and this sacred tradition has been kept alive for thousands of years in India. The wise compassion of the master and the devotional receiptivity of the disciple are the ingridients that has kept this alive. Sadhguru has now unleashed a spiritual movement on a massive scale which would further strenghten this tradition. Our pranams to Him

7 years 2 months ago

With all due respect.
The transmission of knowledge from a "Guru" to a disciple for thousands of years is not exclusive to India.
North, central and South american Shamans have done the same.

7 years 3 months ago

Tibetan Buddhism as Sengottuvel has written has its origin from India. Padma Shambhava who is revered almost equivalent to Gautama the Buddha in Tibet took Buddhism from india. Similarly Marappa the guru to Milerpa the celebrated Tibetan master and Yogi
studied in Nalanda.

6 years 11 months ago

correction the first yoga class was help in the banks of kanti sarovar i think it in india not sure

7 years 3 months ago

Although the Dharmic culture exists in Tibet,Nepal,Srilanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand , Burma etc it all has vanished to a greater extent in the recent times. In India too it is fast vanishing. Almost 30% of the culture is destroyed. Also the Tibetan Government in exile and Dalai lama are in India currently. But your point is valid. Tibet should have been included. Kailash is in Tibet as well.

5 years 1 month ago

This is exactly what is essense of Guru Shishya parampara. We can ask questions to the Guru to clarify things and evolve, but not question Guru's knowledge it self or find faults in his pravachans. Questioning Guru knowledge is Ahankara/Ego and is a grave sin which will only block our progress and stop any grace from flowing.

7 years 3 months ago

Well, from my understanding of these cultures especially in the zen traditions live masters were not always present like the situation in India, there where gaps which sadhguru was trying to explain there was no disturbance in the lineage of enlightened masters

4 years 7 months ago

Thanks for this illuminating articles about the origins of Yoga, Sadhguru. I'm writing from Italy, and i practicing in humility Yoga alone since may 2015. So i'm a Seeker and i want to understand the reality around me, because at the start of my "Yogic path" it was very difficult to find a way in Italian and european Yoga schools, because the most are only fisical schools, and this situations confounds me about the real Yoga. At least i have decided to study all' about real Yoga that ONLY comes from "Indian Masters" and my dream are to live and study Yoga in India, at the ISHA foundation and to travel India to being my spiritual path. The most conversations about Yoga i had with friends and parents, they intended only as a sport and not as a Spirtiual practice. I found that it's sad how the occidental world have distorted the sense of Yoga in this years... Sorry for my english.

In Love, Francesco.

7 years 3 months ago

I who dont know anything beyond whats written by colonists as History books and permutations of 'Truth' throwing up from Google search cannot defend Sadhguru. Still want to point the obvious .. Where are the origins of Buddhism ? Buddha is said to have lived 2500 years ago. Did Tibet have the concept of Guru Shishya parampara before Buddhism came to Tibet ?

4 years 2 months ago

Kind sir you are forgetting one though!

Even Buddhism was born here my dear sir!!
But the Buddha even in India we consider him as a deity because he already received the gift maybe in his past life who knows.
Do you he was known as Siddharta and he was a prince here.
He was the prince of the region which now is known as bodh gaya, in the state of Bihar.

So yes sadhguru is correct it existed only here.
Most of the world has history noted down, while here we never bothered about writing it down, we lived it and it was always shared by the Guru Shisya parampara.

7 years 3 months ago

Yes ,. Its quite possible that The Guru Shisya parampara in its full dimension that Sadhguru talks about did indeed 'originate' in India but the statement was “India is the ONLY place where this kind of tradition existed. " My point was that really this point need to be qualified or amended to make it clearer . Probably Sadhguru means that this tradition has it roots in India . and of course the borders of what constitutes india have changed over the centuries. e.g Buddha was born in Lumbini Nepal but at that time it wasnt classed as Nepal. However my point was that an unbroken lineage of fully realised Masters is vital to Tibetan Buddhists who would not at all accept that this tradition only existed in India. This point needs some correction or amendment.. I can accept the idea that it started in India but not that it only existed there and I dont think any of the several million Tibetan Buddhist would accept that either.

7 years 3 months ago

Im not sure if that is true about Zen Masters ..They often chant a lineage of masters who each trasmitted one to the next the complete realisation one to the next. So an unbroken stream of realisation can be traced back to Bodhidharma (originally from South India ) and back to Gautama The Buddha who held up the flower to Mahakasyapa. BUT I can certainly vouch for the belief amongst Tibetan Buddhist that there was no gap and that living masters were always present in their Guru Shisya parampara.

7 years 3 months ago

Well , the origin of orthodox Buddhism could be taken as the place where Gautama first appeared.. and that was at Lumbini (present day Nepal) , Also tantric teachings of Tibet would most likely have orginated with The AdiYogi Shiva who was situated at that time at Mt Kailash in present day Tibet. So we just need to broaden out the concept of what this 'India' that had a monopoly on Guru Shisya Parampara actually means.