The word 'guru' has become a part of many languages of the world, apart from languages of India. But there are many misconceptions and prejudices about this term both in the East and the west. It would be worthwhile to dwell in some detail about the term and the concept of Guru. We are talking about the Teacher related to spirituality and not of physical science, art or literature. In those fields also we get wonderful instructors with in-depth knowledge in their subjects, but they barter their expertise with their students for name, fame or money. Therefore, such teachers do not qualify to be labeled as Guru for our purpose.
Second point of interest is to understand the need of a qualified Guru for a spiritual aspirant, if he or she wants to progress on the royal path of God Realization. It is not possible for ordinary aspirant to comprehend and grasp the essence of scriptures or religious philosophy (e.g. Vedanta, Yoga, The Gita) by merely reading the books or listening to talks. Books and scriptures do qualify in a minor way to become Guru, but this mode of transfer of knowledge falls short of expectations. It might, in fact mislead and distract the aspirant from the true path of spiritual attainment.
Of course anyone can proclaim himself or herself as Guru. Such fake 'Babas' mushroom in many parts of India and abroad. Such persons have selfish motives as earning money etc., and unfortunately many gullible persons fall victims to their designs. In fact, the word guru is falling to disrepute because of such self-proclaimed incompetent persons.
Qualifications of a True Guru
Therefore, it becomes imperative on our part to understand and consider basic qualifications of a spiritual teacher. Mundaka and Brihadaranyaka Upanishads have eulogized the following four qualifications of a true Guru:
- The Guru should be shrotriya, i.e. well versed in scriptures. If he is to teach religion, he must have a proper grasp of the subject as expounded in genuine ancient texts and books. This does not mean mere book knowledge, but the Guru must have imbibed the Truths of the scriptures in his daily life. His actions, speech, and thoughts must express these truths in his day-to-day behavior. Without uttering a single word he should be able to convey the spirituals truths to all around him. The Guru must be able to handle all types of minds, which may come to him, which is why he has to keep up the scriptural tradition and continue his study and sadhana throughout the life.
Moreover, the Guru should not be cut off from the traditions of the land. For instance, a Vedanta Teacher should be able to highlight Christian or Jewish aspirations in his western disciples by properly relating the Hindu scriptural truths to their faith. This does not mean that the Guru has to lower or modify his ideal, but simply that he has to emphasis the universal truth without hurting religious feelings of various aspirants.
- The second qualification of the Guru is equally important, and that is: The Guru must be Brahma-Jnani. He must be a realized soul, which means he must have knowledge of God. If he is ignorant, how can he guide the aspirants beyond ignorance! A blind man cannot lead another blind to the goal; chances are that both would fall in a ditch. This separates the spiritual Guru from teachers of secular sciences where instructor has no particular need of virtue or good character. The subject taught here is pure, blissful God and hence the Guru must be pure and god-drenched.
Anyone and everyone can't be a Guru. A huge load of solid timber floats on the water and can carry men and animals across the bank, even in rising waters; but a piece of worthless ordinary wood sinks as soon as one steps on it and drowns the person. Therefore, in every age God incarnates Himself as the Guru, to teach humanity the secrets of God and Self. "Satchidananda alone is the Guru," says Sri Ramakrishna.
- The third qualification of the Guru is that he should be 'akamahata', not smitten by desires or selfishness. His character must be spotless and clean. He should have such virtues as compassion, love, generosity, and altruism. He sees divinity all around and also is capable of understanding its variable manifestation in his various disciples. Therefore, he does not hate or look down upon any sadhaka, for he knows that in many aspirants divinity is covered with dirt of ignorance. In every case he guides the disciples to the same goal of Self Realization.
A Guru looks into the nature of the people before making them his disciples. All men look alike but have different natures. Some have an excess of sattva, others excess of rajas, and still others an excess of tamas. Accordingly, Guru gives differing instructions for spiritual aspirants. Therefore, faith in Guru's words and instructions is the most vital part in the progress on the spiritual path; howsoever odd or contradictory his instructions may appear!
- The fourth qualification is linked with the third. The Guru should be avrijina, stainless pure. He should be simple and guileless. He should have conquered greed and lust totally. We see this in the holy life of Sri Ramakrishna, who was unable to tie the knot to his clothes, and secondly, his hand used to get twisted on coming in contact with metal or coin, lest it should be taken as a sign of accumulation and greed!
The Guru should be truthful. Under no condition should he deviate from righteous path. This purity comes through constant discrimination between real and unreal and giving up the unreal. Thus, the Guru should be well established in the highest Truth that God alone is real; rest all is transitory. Therefore, the Guru renounces all worldly pleasures and carvings of the senses. Privilege and prestige, name and fame should not affect the character of the Guru in the least. He should be easily accessible and approachable to his all the minor and major disciples.
Without Guru one can also proceed on the royal path of self-realization. But then the journey would be full of obstacles and pitfalls. It would take long time to reach the destination. This sadhana is like trying to cross the ocean in a small boat. Guru is like a huge steamer to which one ties one's boat and relaxes. That huge steamer is sure to take the disciple to other shore. The dangers are minimized and the delay cut down.
If we are fortunate enough to find such a Teacher, then a lofty kind of love can begin to bosom in our heart. Everything that happens between the Guru and the disciple happens through love and compassion. It is said in Indian religious lore, "If the disciple is ready, the Guru will appear; he will come to us." Intense yearning and effort to realize God is sure to help the aspirant find his or her Guru. Let us prepare ourselves to receive such a noble soul.
See Also: The Disciple