The concept ‘Guru’ originated from India and it is very unique to Indian tradition. The reference to Guru finds in almost all Indian spiritual traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism (Wikipedia), and in almost all scriptures, such as Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and Mahabharata. Who is a Guru? Various text describes Guru is a teacher without any ambiguity. Krishnamurti, a philosopher describes Guru as consisting of two syllables ‘gu ‘and ‘ru’; ‘Gu’ means darkness and ‘ru’ means dispelling the darkness.
Essentially, Guru stands for a person who “dispels the darkness of ignorance by spreading the knowledge”.
Though the sense attached to the concept in different spiritual traditions in India is contextual, the inherent meaning is same ‘the teacher’. It would be more clear if we discuss the roles played by the Guru. Basically, there are three different kinds of Guru: the teacher, the spiritual master, and God. Each aspect of Guru plays a very unique role in one’s life. The Guru as a teacher basically engages in educating the subject knowledge or vocational training (Vyabaharika Gyana). It is useful for the students in taking up an occupation or job. The Guru as a spiritual master and the God teach spiritual knowledge and the knowledge of the divine (Paramarthika Gyana). The difference between the spiritual master and the God illustrates the differences in role played by the Guru.
Guru is a teacher, spiritual master, and God.
The Guru-Disciple Relationship, The Gurukul
Guru-disciple relationship is very unique to India as a concept and practice. In West, the teacher as a concept is merely an instructor. The relationship between the teacher and the students is very much transactional and confined within the boundary of the class room. Unlike the West, the Guru-disciple relationship in ancient India is quite relational and in-depth in nature and focus. The relationship starts building with the mutual acceptance. The disciple makes hard effort finding a true Guru. The acceptance of a Guru by the disciple begins with the search and ends in the acceptance by the Guru. Similarly, the Guru makes hard effort by putting the seeker into various formal and informal test before accepting the seeker as disciple. The journey begins with mutual acceptance and relationship. Dedication, devotion, love, and commitment are important features of the relationship. Often the relationship defines the implicit part of the agreement, not the explicit and written code of conduct. The Guru-disciple relationship is even further deep in case of spiritual engagement. Upon acceptance, they dedicate even the entire life into the relationship. The Guru commits to help the disciple in spiritual progress, not only during this life but also until such time the devotee gets liberation. The Guru promises to guide the disciple even from the heavenly abode. In his own words, Guru Paramahansa Yogananda says “when I am gone the teachings will be the Guru” (The SRF). The physical presence of the Guru always not needed, even the Guru will present and guide in dream (Paramahansa Yogananda, 2013).
The Guru commits to help the disciple in spiritual progress, not only during this life but also until such time the devotee gets liberation.
The Ekalavya, A Prototype of the Disciple
The Mahabharata story of Ekalavya to his Guru Dronacharya is an exemplary case of a disciple’s devotion, love, and commitment to the Guru. Learning his background the Guru Dronacharya refused to accept Ekalavya as his disciple. Then, Ekalavya built a statue of the Guru Dronacharya and started learning the martial art of archery by showing the love, devotion, and commitment to the statue as his Guru. Eventually, it came to the notice of Guru Dronacharya that Ekalavya has become the greatest warrior of the time. To avoid the threat from Ekalavya to his disciple Arjuna, stoically Guru asked for his thumb as Guru Dakshina; Ekalavya offered his thumb without any hesitation . The morale of the story is that India loves the concept of Guru as an ethos with absolute love, devotion, and commitment to the spirit. The Guru-Disciple relationship is unceasingly holy, pure, spiritual, and divinely.
Today, the relationship stands test of the time.