Guru or Teacher?

The word Guru is getting some attention in the West and is often used quite loosely as another word for “expert” which is not really the true meaning of the word. Of course, experts and teachers are important in life. They educate, shape and guide us in our formative years, and later coach us in our careers, business and sports, teach us how to play instruments and the like. But a Guru is so much more than just a teacher. Here is a more indepth explanation of the word Guru.

Guru is a sanskrit word that broadly means teacher, guide, expert or master.  It is an ancient word that captures the whole essence of a spiritual teacher.

Gu = darkness  |  Ru = he who dispels them

Advayataraka Upanishad, Verse 16

The Guru is seen as the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance. Traditionally the Guru is a highly respected figure to the student serving as a counsellor who helps to mould the values, shares experiential knowledge as much as literal, an inspiration in life and source or guide in the spiritual evolution of the student. Some Gurus are already self-realised masters. The Guru should be a master in their field of knowledge, practice what they teach, have a pure character free from desire or envy, be selfless in nature and live a simple life.

So how do we know if the Guru we come across is the right teacher for us?

Some warn against false teachers and recommend that a spiritual seeker test the Guru before accepting him. There are many incompetent Gurus out there that are interested only in preying on the vulnerable, making money and the fame that comes from popularity – they are not teaching from a pure heart. You will know if you listen to your deep intuition whether the Guru is right for you – trust in that. Ask yourself these five questions:

  • am I learning about myself – the good and the bad, and making changes
  • is the knowledge I am learning providing me with clarity and truth
  • am I receiving all that is good for me and not just all that I want
  • do I feel a sense of freedom or liberation from the illusory world
  • do I feel empowered to take control of my own life

There is no need to worry about searching for a Guru. There is a Buddhist saying that “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”. You may come across many teachers in life before you find your personal Guru. Again, you will know – just go with the flow. All teachers are relevant on your path, be where you are.

Once you find the right Guru, if they are self-realised, there is so much they can offer to guide you to transcend to higher levels of consciousness and eventually attain moksha. This requires many hours of sincere and disciplined practice, so if this is what you seek, be prepared for the work. Do not feel discouraged by feelings of inadequacy or that it is too hard to maintain a regular practice, the Guru will inspire you to continue on with your sadhana.

Traditionally there would be a period of time spent in a Gurukula house, ashram or monastery where one can live with the Guru and experience some intensive sadhana. In India this is how the knowledge in any field is passed down through the succeeding generations. But now the world has opened up for us to travel so easily, we also have the benefit of living with our teachers at certain times in our lives to enable us to go deeper into our practice.

On the full moon day of 9 July 2017 we have the festival of Gurupurnima – a day to honour, pay our respects and express gratitude to our Gurus – to all teachers, spiritual, academic, even our first teacher, our mothers.

Om Guru Jaya Guru Deva!

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