TKV Desikachar on the Guru and the Nature of Teaching

What is Transmission?

Transmission is not something being given, because it is already there: something is removed. In the Upanishads a beautiful example is given. It is like an old vessel, a copper vessel, that has been kept without use. You know what happens: slowly it becomes rusty. Slowly it becomes this dark bluish color, you know, copper oxide. It looks so dull. Then, what is the chemistry there? Either you scratch, or use some acid or alkali, depending on the chemistry, and the copper again is copper, the real unique color of copper comes out. That is transmission. Transmission is the process of removing the darkness. Transmission is not the process of giving light. That’s why the word guru is like that. Guru is the process where the gu part is removed so that the ru remains.

What about the idea that we get some special powers in the process of transmission?

I don’t “get” anything from my teacher. It is not acquiring. This is, unfortunately, an error in the presentation of great teachings. We get nothing. Only something is removed from us. So, naturally, when I get something I’m adding a burden to myself. Already there is an impediment; why add more?

With due respect to my teacher, I did not get anything from my father. He opened what was in me. I’m very grateful to him. He opened the door. Exactly like in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali says that change from ignorance to clarity is as follows: there is water there, there’s no water here. All the plants are dying because there is no water. But is there really not water? There is water, only it is elsewhere. So what is to be done? You don’t have to bring water, it is there already. You open the dam — don’t break it suddenly. The water flows and the plants revive. The water is here; the soil is here; the seeds are here; everything is here. The sun is of course here. So, I don’t need to get water. I have to remove the dam.

Excerpt from article “T.K.V. Desikachar on the Guru and the nature of Teaching: An interview with Brenda Dobia.”
Yoga International, Issue No. 47, May 1999
(used with permission of the author)