The definition of a Guru
A few years back I came across an article by Joel D. Mlecko titled, “The Guru in Hindu tradition.” The article traces the significance of the Guru-disciple relationship from the Vedic era up to the present times. Though the article gives us only a cursory glimpse of the topic it is enough to make the reader realize the tremendous significance this relationship has in the spiritual tradition of India.
The Rig Veda describes the Guru as the “source and inspirer of the knowledge of the Self”, and given that there is no greater knowledge than that of knowing the Self, the Guru then effectively becomes the crucial link in revealing life’s most well-kept secret — that of discovering the Self. The Sanskrit term “Guru” is derived from two root words, gu meaning ignorance and ru meaning light; therefore a Guru is someone who helps the disciple to dispel the darkness of ignorance and lead him to light. It is this capacity of transforming the very life and purpose of the disciple that makes a Guru such a unique influence.
So when I set out to explore the Guru-disciple relationship in the four Ashrams (see my previous blog) one of the first issues to look into was that of defining and understanding the Guru. It was crucial for me to understand how these disciples perceived their Guru, what did he mean to them. So I asked them all to define their Guru.
The answers were clearly divided into the following two categories:
- The Guru is the Divine.
- The Guru is the direct link to the Divine.
For some of them their Guru was the Absolute Being that resided in everyone and everything. He is an aspect of Brahman that has manifested here on earth. He is the source of everything. And to define him is not possible because he is greater than all human reasoning and understanding. Many of them considered their Guru as the Divine present in a human form. And it was only because of the grace and love of the Guru that these disciples came in contact with him. And once the contact was established, their destiny was sealed.
On the other hand for some other disciples their Guru was a human channel through which the Divine did his work. He was defined as someone with extraordinary qualities, who could be fully trusted and looked up to. He was able to transmit spiritual powers to the disciple and was the source of unending happiness and unconditional love. He was considered the most worthy of men because he had a concrete and living connection with the Self. Having undertaken this inner journey himself he was the right person to lead the disciple. With his help and encouragement the disciples could reconnect to the true Source and Support of their being.
But whether the Guru was perceived as the Divine or as the instrument of the Divine, he was definitely (as one of them expressed), “an infinite ocean of grace and love and peace and joy and bliss,” always present to help and support the disciple. It is this capacity of complete acceptance, infinite patience and innate belief that make a Guru the central support in the disciple’s journey of finding the Self.
Sri Aurobindo in the following quote beautifully defines the Guru,
“Influence is more important than example. Influence is not the outward authority of the Teacher over his disciple, but the power of his contact, of his presence, of the nearness of his soul to the soul of another, infusing into it, even though in silence, that which he himself is and possesses. This is the supreme sign of the Master. For the greatest Master is much less a Teacher than a presence pouring the divine consciousness and its constituting light and power and purity and bliss into all who are receptive around him.”
The Guru therefore is that power that can turn our gaze inwards and help us discover our own true Selves.