“O Shri Rama, an aspirant should take recourse to satsanga (good association). He should nourish his intellect by receiving instruction from the sages and reflecting upon them. Gradually, he should cultivate the great qualities that manifest in enlightened personalities.”
A guru is an integral part of Hinduism. Literally, the word guru means “one who removes darkness.” In the Hindu religion, a guru occupies a very prestigious position. It is believed that the guru may pass his knowledge and grace to his disciple both in tangible and subtle spiritual ways: Danam atma jnanam—one who gives the knowledge of Self, the Divine.
A guru imparts spiritual knowledge out of love and compassion and not for any material considerations. With spiritual knowledge an individual’s character is changed. A guru may wield a very powerful influence on the moral values of a large population.
A true guru is himself pure and enlightened. His own behavior is completely free from any blemish. He is above lust, anger, and greed and is forever calm and filled with wisdom. His only motivation is to uplift humanity. His lifelong interest becomes to uplift and educate his disciples, mentally and spiritually, without any personal gain. He does not build any expectations in others, including his pupils, and hence, he is free from any wrath and ill temper. He becomes the embodiment of cosmic love. Guru teaches how to use the senses and the mind in a spiritual manner and in a most practical method, almost as if he were holding his shishya’s hand. Scriptures tell us the true worth of a guru: “Guru Vishnu, Guru Brahma, Guru Maheshwara!” Thus, a guru is elevated to the combined status of all gods. Hindu scriptures mention that even Lord Rama and Lord Krishna had to undergo training with their respective gurus, Sage Vasistha and Muni Sandipani.
At the same time, however, utmost discretion and vigilance is also advised in walking on this path. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord clearly instructs Arjuna that after listening to all, he must make his own decision. This, indeed, is the core point of Hinduism. One’s own solicitude, judgment, and free will are considered the most important. In the end, we may awaken our own guru, the Divine within. In scriptures this is often called the satguru, or the true guru. This is the final destination. Hindus have an abiding faith that the Divine dwells within, and it needs to be sought with a most pure mind.
Also, there are veiled warnings that a true guru, however learned and knowledgeable, must never be trapped in his own ego or his own arrogance. A guru’s position is well defined; his limits are clearly marked. As long as he is in the human body, his human weaknesses and vulnerabilities are a part of him. Modesty and not egoism is the mark of a true guru. Harnakash was a most learned guru in his own way, but no sooner did he wear the garb to become God than he was eliminated. The phenomenon of megalomania, the lust for power, is an eternal human weakness. True humility is the sign of a genuine guru. There are some gurus who are not true masters. The highly spiritual gurus do attain very advanced supernatural powers. But even among the highest, the human factor always remains. Have not the scriptures mentioned that even God in the human form falters? In ancient times, the people would go to the ashrams of Rishis, and actually observe how the saints lived themselves. Now often some saints may give big lectures about simple living etc. but they themselves live quite the different way. In the long run, it’s one’s conduct that helps to transform others; only words do not.
Sudhenshu Mahraj, a renowned Hindu saint of our times, has stated that a guru should always guide and lead his devotees to pray to Almighty Supreme God. He should not himself become the chief object of prayer and devotion.
In the ancient period, it was a common practice that Hindu Rishis would recommend another guru for more advanced instruction. Hindu scriptures have also stated that a person should be like a bee, collecting honey from various flowers. In the Srimad Bhagavatam there is mention of Sri Dattatreya, who had twenty-four gurus.
The pupil or shishya, too, has certain requirements. There are three basic conditions to be fulfilled: humility (vinamrata), true desire (jigyasa), and faith (shradha). The disciple needs to have faith but not blind faith. He, too, must not be so cynical as to find faults all the time. He ought to be a genuine seeker of truth and knowledge, with an open mind and humility.
In the Hindu spiritual system, a guru is considered indispensable. Hindu scriptures considered a mother to be the first guru, Matravaan, until the child is six years old. The father would be the next guru, Pitravaan, until the child is nine years of age. Thus, parents have been endowed with the highest honor as well as the responsibility of childcare. Traditionally, every Hindu family ought to have a family guru, kulaguru, who is knowledgeable about the flow and movement of the clan in all respects.
A guru is a spiritual guide, but the main responsibility also lies with the pupil to learn as well as assimilate the knowledge. Sri Tapovan Maharaj said, “To the worthy aspirant, the great spiritual guides impart instruction on the knowledge of truth; but it is the aspiring disciples themselves to follow those instructions and acquire the Divine qualities by strenuous effort.” 83
Hindu scriptures have also laid great importance in the holy company, the satsanga. Indeed, if we leave the holy, we may become involved with the unholy. Man is a social animal; he simply cannot do without some association and fellowship. Hindu sages have repeatedly underscored the value of satsanga, the holy company. Man is prompted to attend religious congregations and assemblies, where people talk and think of only pious and spiritual matters. They sing songs in glory of the Lord–gun gaan–and thus purify their minds and gradually transform themselves toward a divine way of living. Sri Ramakrishna’s advice is pertinent:
“Don’t accept anybody as your guru until you examine him or her both by day and night for days together. Then, if you find he or she can stand all these tests and is really pure, you can accept that person as your guru.” 84
The concept of “Guru” is rather unique to Hinduism. Literally, the word “Guru” means the one who removes darkness (of ignorance). Thus a Guru first learns and transforms himself; later he may teach and transform many others toward virtue and divinity. Although it has been mentioned that a Guru is an indispensable requirement—even God-incarnates like Lord Rama and Lord Krishna were instructed by their respective gurus. Finding a true Guru, and attaining a constant access in modern times is most challenging. Not all but a few Gurus have their own imperfections and faults; they are trapped in their ego and other sensual weaknesses. In recent times, “Guru” has become a global marvel, attracting persons of great distinction and eminence, across the globe. The Guru occasionally becomes a part of their high color and status, allowing simplicity and austerity to take a backseat. The Guru is invariably in great rush and crowded by many aspirants. Individual and constant attention, a very important requirement of the “Guru” status, is conspicuous by its absence.
Nevertheless the “Guru” phenomenon has been there from most ancient times and has been carried ably throughout millennia by the most virtuous and spiritual masters, saints and sages of the highest order. Like any other drawbacks of the society, this one too shall find its worthy solution in good time.