Shisya – The Sattvic Student

“I am overcome. I am confused. I am your student. Please teach me, I take refuge in you.” – Arjuna to Krishna, Bhagavad Gitā 2.7

In honor of the upcoming brightest moon of the year which marks Guru Purnima, I’m offering a 3-part series on 3 essential ingredients of the yogic journey, and sharing a bit of my personal story [something I rarely do!]. 

Part 1 is  Becoming a Mumukṣu 

Part 2 is on Śraddha – Cultivating Commitment

Part 3 below is Śiṣya – the Sattvic Student

Here’s where the story left off… “No” he said as he pushed a handwritten note across the table with a name and phone number. “You’re going to study Jyotish, and you’re going to learn from this man”. “Okay, yes” we said. 


Read on for the next part of this series...

I think this moment in India, when we said “yes” to studying with our first Jyotiṣa teacher because it was given, was a turning point. Though we had always loved the role of the “teacher” and loved knowledge, this was a deeper surrender and receptivity to the teacher. 



There we were – though this was not the plan – spending our mornings memorizing the names and meanings of the star constellations with our eccentric teacher who had previously been a colonel in the Indian army.  Afternoons were spent on the banks of the Ganga doing mathematical calculations of horoscopes by hand. Within a month few destiny patterns made it clear that the next thing to do was re-work our lives and return to the US to move to a new city to be close to the opportunity to delve in deeper. 



After that, there was no longer a pursuit of subject matter or certification of any kind… there was just the openness to teacher, receiving what was given, and making it a point to give back as much as possible in return. 



Years followed in deepening study & commitment… in the full spectrum of the Vedic Tradition… Michael and I ate whatever was put into our bowls by our closest teachers. 



*It’s important to acknowledge that the vedic tradition is very clear, the apt teacher adheres to the principels of dharma – the upmost of which is non-harming – and the student must have discernment in choosing a teacher. Surrender and reverence and earnestness is essential, but only in a container that is safe, dharmic and ultimately for the sake of the student. In this way, while it can appear that the student is in service to the teacher, it is the teacher who is in service to the student. Dharma is a pre-requisite for the teacher-student relationship.

With our first Jyotiṣa teacher, Col Puri in his apartment in Rishikesh, India around 2003 [the Nakṣatras are listed behind us on the white board]. This was the teacher our jeweler friend Anil Mehrotra insisted we study with, when we weren't even looking to study Jyotiṣa at all.

From the beginning of my story one thing has remained true, my love of and luck with teachers.


The first teachers in my life were my parents. 


My mother is a music teacher, and my father was a software engineer and percussianist who mentored people of various professions in the magical potential of computers – his students included pilots, artists, composers and actors. 


I can track my childhood by looking back on a handful amazing teachers who went above and beyond. And the unethical “teachers” I experienced remain meaningfully memorable as well. 


Reverence for teachers helps make it clear when that position is being violated, and it also makes it natural to orient one’s life toward the incredible teachers and mentors appear. 



I chose an obscure college based on attending a class with one particular teacher, who became my mentor. Then for years I travelled thousands of miles monthly to study with my yoga teacher. Michael and I moved cities {twice} for a teacher and travelled cross country multiple times to be with our gurus. 




One teacher would lead to the next, and this formed a constellation in our life. Some teachers we walked away from, others we deepened with – all part of a natural progression. 







The word for the spiritual student of a teacher in sanskrit is śiṣya – the śiṣya has a particular [and peculiar] ability, to engage with a teacher with an attitude of pure receptivity. The śiṣya is available for a teacher.


The sattvic student follows a teacher who strikes a chord deep within. Then free from demand, the student receives what is taught.  


I did not look for a teacher or guru. I listened for and waited for teachers. I paid attention to teachers. I made myself available for a teacher 


We might call it reverence for the teacher. I might also say it is a kind of innocent earnestness. 

They say when the student is ready the teacher appears… and it sounds cliche. But it is true.

The student doesn’t find the teacher. The teacher also doesn’t go looking for the student. They are given to one another in the right time.

“Who is qualified to receive the knowledge of Īśvara? One with pure intelligence. One who has made commitments to make the mind sattvic. This brings the blessing to see things as they really are.” ~ Śri Krishan Mantri

One of our only remaining images of Pujya Swami Dayānanda from our several months on a very small retreat with him in 2011. It's blurry, but dear.


What makes one “available to a teacher”?

  • A sattvic lifestyle that establishes you in receptivity & harmony
  • Generosity to teachers and knowledge systems
  • Commitment to your path
  • An attitude that never demands from a teacher
  • Prioritizing the teacher-student relationship


I’ll say more about prioritizing


For about 12 years Michael and I dedicated to full-time study with our teachers. To make this possible we both worked full time and lived simply in one room, in a 500 square foot apartment, in a basement of our teacher’s apartment, in a 600 square foot cottage with our children. We poured our hearts & resources into our love of study with teachers. 


Orienting 12 years of life to this is rare these days, and surely could be seen as a “sacrifice” but we received such wealth of wisdom. It wasn’t something we strategized, it simply unfolded that way. 


śiṣya must have some resource to draw on in this life that makes the possible. 


Being in a loving supportive partnership of shared commitment to this path was a huge resource that made it possible. Partnership, unbending dedication and earnestness were our resources.


There’s a lot of talk about “who is the guru” and “how to find a guru”… but I think it is most essential to first  ask, “what is a student who is well prepared for a true teacher? And am I that kind of student?” 



Is there a natural reverence, an attitude of service, a receptivity, a commitment and an innocent earnestness. 


It is not that the student or even the teacher is “perfect”, but that they both understand the profound purpose of the relationship and commit wholly to it. 

On a boat somewhere outside of Toronto Canada, with a dear teacher around 2009

Michael and I have had about 5 primary teachers in our life – from enlightened spiritual giants to masters of vidyas. When I quote my teachers, I’m not quoting a book, but from my memory and handwritten notes of from teachings given in times spent with them. 


We have held our teachers & mentors close, and prioritized time with them, and as a result, they have held us close in return. 


Somehow, private circles & one on one time with our closest teachers was always generously give. Somehow, Michael and were often been put in the position of advising, offering healing and coming together as family with our teachers and mentors. This wasn’t pursued or asked for… but we were told it was due to our particular dharma when it comes to teaching & advising others. 


These stories we hold dear and private… and even the very few photos that exist of me with my teachers mysteriously disappeared from the material realm… confirmation to keep these stories  “close to the chest”. 


We are ever grateful, and hope to honor what has been shared by continuing in our own dharma as we were advised to by our teachers. 


Whether studying a little or diving in full time, it is the inner attitude that determines if you are a śiṣya. This is the powerful, primordial guru-śiṣya-paramparā that sustains knowledge like a river flowing through time. 

“This tradition requires a person. Knowledge must travel in the presence of a teacher” ~ Hart deFouw

Thank you for reading along… it was an act of love to write these three pieces for you… and I hope a way to honor my gurus, teachers, and brothers & sisters on this path ~ Pujya Swami Dayānanda, Śri Krishan Mantri, Swami Tattvavidānanda, Hart deFouw, Rama Berch, Col Puri & Mrs Puri, Gitte Beschgaard, Dr. Sarita Shrestha and my beloved Michael Manzella. More on the definition of a śiṣya for you below. Pronunciation of the words in this series here

  • śiṣya  reverence, receptivity, humility, and patience.  
  • A śiṣya is not “perfect” but must have the capacity for deep listening, reverence and receptivity.
  • A śiṣya does not make demands on the teacher {the teacher also does not exploit the student}
  • A śiṣya is not gathering information to weaponize, nor factoids to commodify.
  • A śiṣya is not hunting for experiences to display or re-package.
  • A śiṣya is not a “customer” {who is “always right”} and the teacher is not a merchant {who sells a pleasing product}

To be a śiṣya is to to listen to what is being given by the teacher who is also listening for what is to be taught.

For all the looking outside for the teacher, ask yourself, “am I a śiṣya?”


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