Vedantic Wednesday: Role of a Guru

A spiritual Guru is often referred to as a teacher. The word teacher however is very loosely used in the day to day conversations to denote an instructor, facilitator, trainer etc.  By comparing the Sanskrit word ‘Guru’ to the English word ‘ Teacher’ we have grossly misunderstood the true essence of the Sanskrit term, reducing it to a more theoretical or skill based interaction.  There are many references in our Vedic texts that explain the choice of this word Guru. Etymological origins can be traced to the two syllables – ‘Gu’ (meaning darkness) and ‘Ru’ (meaning dispels or shatters). Guru then is that person who dispels our spiritual ignorance.

In the spiritual journey of a person, having a Guru is the most essential of requirements. The spiritual development of an individual is like the foundation of the building. It has to be well laid so as to hold the structure for a long period of time. While the building may be modified and rebuilt a number of times, the foundation is rarely altered. 

While doing such a fundamental and critical learning, it becomes essential for a seeker/student to find the right Guru. This search has to be continued till the right relationship is struck. Once the relationship is firmed up, the student should truly devout himself and allow being led by the Guru.  The Guru’s role is to show direction and explain the significance and clarify doubts.  In the absence of a Guru we could lose our way in the learning process. This will create both disinterest and disillusionment.

While it is very important to have a Guru by our side, the Guru fully knows when he has to drop holding our hands.  Unlike in any other pursuit of knowledge, where experience of the teacher can be translated through theories and formulas, experience of one in the spiritual journey is just information for another.  The realization of SELF comes through the single minute of deep connect that one has to individually experience. The Guru helps us prepare ourselves and become available for that connect. The reason why masters of realization do not talk about their experience or of god is because it reduces it to information. This is also the reason why a true seeker is always advised to go off the path of knowledge after a while. More attention and focus is given to the acts of contemplation and introspection.  

A Guru is one who at the appropriate times will disturb the student’s tendency to get caught up in the process of accumulation of knowledge. It is only through experience that enlightenment or SELF realization is reached. No amount of knowledge in quantity or quality can ever replace or substitute the experience. It is therefore important to have someone who can constantly disturb our understanding and goad us to go back to feeling like a seeker at the starting point – bereft of any bias. This one act of the Guru is probably the greatest service they render that enables one more student to reach the state of enlightenment.

Every teacher’s aspiration is to create a student who goes beyond him in the journey of learning. This makes the relationship between a student and a teacher highly sacred.  A ‘Guru’ is that teacher who will lead and equip you for the journey into the unknown.  

Having said this, it is a challenge to find one’s ‘Guru’ . The search for the ‘Guru’, demands patience,  humility, commitment, perseverance, complete belief and surrender from the part of the student.  But without this ‘Guru’ it is very difficult to attain wisdom!


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