Oct 03, 2023
Oct 03, 2023
Continued from Part XXXV
Guru-Shishya Parampara is a value based tradition in the Hindu religion and culture, the Sanatana Dharma since ancient times. The nearest literal English meanings of Guru is teacher, Shishya is disciple and Parampara a tradition. In essence, it represents the lineage of passing knowledge from a competent teacher to his disciples largely through oral tradition. This Parampara has remained a unique feature of all Indian religions viz. Hinduism (Sanatan Dharma), Jainism, Buddhism and even in the much later evolved Sikhism all along the course of their history. There is enough evidence in Hindu texts to suggest that the Guru-Shishya Parampara had evolved as a tradition in the Vedic culture and passed on to and nurtured by all other Indian religions. The usual characteristic of the Parampara was that the disciple would live with the Guru in a spiritual, intellectual and emotional bonding and eventually master the knowledge embodied by the teacher.
This association of Guru and Shishya followed many forms varying from simply skill based mundane worldly knowledge to imparting philosophical knowledge of spirituality and God to even showing the path of liberation (Moksha). For instance, Dronacharya was Guru of Kauravas and Pandvas princes for imparting them Karma-based specialized skills in weaponry and war while Adi Shankara was the disciple of Govinda Bhagavatpada who initiated him to the knowledge (Jnan) of the Vedas, Upanishads and Brahmasutra that enabled Shankara to propound the Advaita philosophy which remains the most recognized and followed Vedanta tradition in Hinduism till date. In Hinduism, three recognized paths to pursue life leading to salvation are Karma-yoga, Jnan-yoga and Bhakti-yoga. In Kurushetra during Mahabharata, Lord Krishna blessed Prince Arjuna with all the three paths of Karma, Jnan and Bhakti in an ideal Guru-Shishya mode when the latter was found in disarray and delusion about his true Dharma as Kshatriya in the battle field.
Accordingly, Guru’s authority and importance varies based on the path pursued, the highest path being the Bhakti-yoga wherein a disciple is expected to totally surrender to the Guru. The Guru-Shishya Parampara has been followed and flourished in Hinduism for thousands of years, and perhaps India is the only country in the world where such a tradition existed in the past and is still continuing. Parampara is a Sanskrit term which literally means “an uninterrupted tradition”; in other words, it denotes an unbroken lineage of imparted knowledge. In the following paragraphs, the author proposes to briefly discuss various aspects of this noble Parampara.
Defining Guru and Guru-Shishya Parampara
A lot has been told in the Hindu texts about the personality and attributes of the Guru in human form. In a nutshell, he is a beacon of spiritual knowledge for disciples. He is the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance in humanity in general and disciples in particular bestowing upon them spiritual knowledge and experiences. In a way, every teacher that initiates and steers his pupils to any kind of education or worldly knowledge and skill is known as Guru but the one who initiates the person to spiritual knowledge and becomes the ultimate instrument of salvation is the Guru in true sense. It is the latter category of Guru which is difficult to obtain or experience in the modern age.
The Isha Foundation is a nonreligious, non-profit organization founded by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev that hosts a series of programs to increase self-awareness through Yoga. Sadhguru is a modern age Indian yogi, mystic and philosopher who defines this Parampara as follows, “India is the only place where this kind of tradition existed. That is, one person realizes something, and he looks for somebody who is truly dedicated, who holds this truth above his life. He looks for such a person and transmits it to him. This person looks for another like that and transmits it to him. This chain continues for thousands of years without a single break. This is known as Guru-Shishya Paramparya.”
According to him, the spiritual aspects of life were never written down in Vedic and post-Vedic era for long possibly because a piece of writing is read by all kinds of people and is subject to misinterpretation. Therefore, it was conceived that only a person who has a certain level of experience and understanding should know it; others should not and that is how it was transmitted. This is how Guru-Shishya Parampara was maintained in the ancient India and this is the reason why our Vedas and Upanishads are categorized as Shruti texts. It was only when this Paramparya started breaking up that the system of writing the spiritual truth started, leading to further dilution. As we experience today, the scholars of all kinds read it and derive their own interpretations and conclusions that often tend to suppress the fundamental and intrinsic truth about the spirituality.
Similarly, on the analogy of teacher and Guru in the foregoing paragraph, Sadhguru’s averment appears reasonable and acceptable when he recommends that a Guru is not merely a teacher; instead, the Guru-Shishya relationship is on an energy basis. The former touches the latter in a dimension where nobody else can. All worldly relations viz., teacher, husband, wife, child, parent and friend can touch a person’s emotions or body but when a person wishes to reach pinnacle of his consciousness, he needs a higher level of energy. He needs a little push to achieve the higher plane of energy and this push comes from the right inspiration and guidance from a tool or device, which is already at a higher level of intensity and energy than the person in need of such support. This tool or device is the person whom we call Guru and the one in need of such guidance a Shishya. Actually, this Guru-Shishya Parampara has been a foundation and backbone of dissemination of knowledge and salvation in Hinduism.
Early Traditions in Parampara
The Vedic concepts and philosophical theories in the early (Principal) Upanishads have been attributed to the well-known ancient sages like Yajnavalkya, Uddalaka Aruni, Shvetaketu, Shandilya, Aitareya, Balaki, Pippalada, Tittiri and Sanatkumara. Some scholarly and philosopher women such as Maitreyi, Gargi and Lopamudra from the ancient age are also known to have significantly contributed to the rich cultural and religious traditions of Hinduism. The aforesaid Guru-Shishya Parampara is believed to have evolved in those times through oral tradition of dialogue and delivery of knowledge by the competent teachers to suitable disciples in genuine quest of spiritual knowledge and salvation. One may find numerous instances in Upanishads in a sort of Guru-Shishya relationship indulged in serious dialogue and discussion on spiritual contents.
Over a period, this Guru–Shishya relationship evolved into an essential fundamental component of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). As such the term "Upanishad" is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘upa’ meaning near, ‘ni’ means down and ‘shad’ denotes to ‘sitting’ i.e. "sitting down near". This in essence means the pupil(s) sitting in close proximity to a spiritual teacher to receive instruction. Narratives of the child protagonist Nachiketa, the son of the sage Vajashravas, and Yama, the god of death, about the nature of soul and Brahman in Katha Upanishad as also Maitreyi (wife) - Yajnavalkya (husband) dialogue on spirituality emerging as the core of Advaita philosophy in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad could essentially be classified under this category. During the epic war of Mahabharata, even the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna with the former delivering the marvels of the Bhagavad Gita to the latter also falls in the same category.
In several Upanishads and Puranas, one could observe episodes and narratives of husband and wife, father and son, sage and king, and so on indulged on serious spiritual discussions or dialogues on moral and ethical topics. Those delivering spiritual knowledge and wisdom were mostly accomplished sages and in some cases the woman sages too, and the seekers of instructions were kings, other elites of the respective era and sometimes even the commoners too in the quest of spiritual knowledge and salvation. All such instances could be related as ideal Guru-Shishya relationships. As the medium of instruction was oral lore then, the respective teachers (Guru) were very careful and discreet in choosing worthy disciples.
Within the broad spectrum of Hinduism, some salient features of the Guru–Shishya tradition include:
Guru–Shishya Relationship Variants
As the tradition itself is very old, it has undergone transformation in varying degree with the passage of time largely depending upon the level of authority exercised by the Guru and the extent of submission of the Shishya. In very intense form, the Shishya may even assign his material possessions to the Guru while adhering to his instructions strictly and unconditionally. In this context, a legend about Mahabharata’s epic character Karna is relevant, who silently bore an unbearable pain of bumblebee bite in his thigh so as not to disturb Guru Parashurama in sleep. In some traditions, the Guru may assume some title(s) symbolizing his superiority or deification which every Shishya and adherents of the Sampradaya (sect) are expected to use while addressing him. According to modern scholars, the highest form of the Guru-Shishya relationship is achieved in the Bhakti-yoga while the lowest form could be related to the pranayama, some of these variants are briefly discussed here.
The highest evolved form of the Guru–Shishya relationship is related to Bhakti (devotion) that implies total surrender to the object of devotion i.e. Guru or God. In a debate of who should be given precedence between the Guru and God, some Hindu philosophers have gone to the extent of glorifying the Guru on the proposition that this is the Guru who shows the path of God and salvation. Bhakti does not require any extra knowledge or skill; it is a simple expression of unconditional devotion to the object of devotion i.e. Guru or God through complete surrender of the ego and all other vices. In the Bhakti tradition, the Shishyas often have a belief that the Guru has supernatural powers, which leads to the deification of the latter. The Guru–Shishya relationship based on Bhakti-yoga is ordinarily based on the following basic considerations:
(2) Advaita Guru Parampara
Advaita Vedanta has a pedigree of highly evolved Guru-Shishya Parampara that mandates everyone seeking the knowledge of Brahman should learn it from a Guru. A true Vedanta Guru was essentially a Srotriya as well as Brahmanistha as essential qualification of this Parampara. While the former attribute relates to the learning and mastery of the Vedic scripture, the latter figuratively means “established in Brahman” i.e. having realized oneness of Brahman (God) everywhere and in himself. In Advaita tradition, the true seeker of the truth of universe must have full faith while seeking answers of his questions from the Guru, who will guide him to attain liberation from the cycle of births and deaths (moksha).
The knowledge of Vedas was carried in the Vedic age from Guru-Shishya Parampara in Shruti tradition. However, most modern Vedic scholars now make use of the written literature on the subject as teaching tool. The Advaita Guru Parampara perhaps comprises of the longest lineage of divine, Vedic and historical Gurus of non-dualism in Vedanta. The aforesaid three categories of Parampara are represented by the gods, followed by the rishis (Vedic seers) and finally the Manavas (Gaudapada, Adi Shankara and his four pupils). The famous four Advaita maths across the country with contemporary Acharyas trace their origin and lineage to Adi Shankara’s pupils. By the turnout of the nineteenth century, Advaita had become the most popular and central philosophy of the Sanatana Dharma. Many Neo-Vedanta concepts and their core teachers like Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi have derived inspiration and core concepts from Vedic Advaita.
(3) Prapatti Tradition
Prapatti is a Sanskrit word with nearest English meaning of ‘surrender’ that represents a devotional school of Hindu sect Vaishnavism proposing the total surrender of self to God (Vishnu or Krishna). Prapatti is also called Saranagati in the bhakti traditions of the Sri Sampradaya, founded by Ramanujacharya in twelfth century and the Gaudiya Sampradaya of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in sixteenth century CE. Guru Ramanuja propounded concept of Vishishtadvaita (qualified monism) that considered surrender to God Vishnu and His consort Goddess Lakshmi shall be the highest goal of life, while Guru Chaitanya emphasized similar surrender to Krishna (an Avatar of Vishnu) and his consort Radha for salvation.
Prapatti tradition believe in spiritual initiation of pupils referred to as Pancha-Samskara or ‘the five sacraments’ that include Nama samskara by adapting a spiritual name after Vishnu or his devotees with the suffix ‘dasa’ (servant), Pundra samskara by application of a Tilaka on the forehead and marks on other body parts, Thapa samskara by branding on the shoulders with the conch and chakra (wheel), ritual worship of Lakshmi and Vishnu by the Guru (Yajna samskara) and, finally, the Mantra samskara i.e. learning certain special mantras from the Guru. This tradition is based on the principle of complete sacrifice of self-ego through submission to the will of the Guru and God.
(4) Shaktipat Tradition
Shaktipat comprises of two Sanskrit words namely Shakti (energy) and Pata (to fall), which in this tradition refers to the conferment of the spiritual energy from the Guru to the Shishya. The stated conferment of Shaktipat is done by a sacred mantra, or simply through thought, look or touch – the last one is performed on the agya chakra or third eye of the recipient. In this tradition, the Saktipat is considered an act of grace of the Guru or the divine whereby the very consciousness of the god or Guru enters into the Self of the disciple effecting his initiation into the sect or the spiritual family. The Guru passes his knowledge to his disciples with a belief that his purified consciousness enters into the selves of his disciples.
In this tradition, the Guru is very experienced and capable, whose own Kundalini is awakened. Shaktipat is considered a fast and simple method of awakening the Kundalini with the help of a competent Guru. The Guru confers a secret mantra to his disciple, and engages the disciple in deep Sadhana (meditation) of Goddess Shakti and God Shiva. If the disciple experiences problem in awakening of the kundalini at his own, the Guru assists his disciple by invoking Shaktipat on him, usually by touching his third eye with his thumb, or other methods indicated in the foregoing paragraph. If the disciple is already at a higher level of Sadhana then he can constantly keep the Kundalini thus awake, otherwise he has to practice it through Sadhana in the daily life.
(5) Shruti Tradition
Shruti is again a Sanskrit word which means “that what is heard” and normally it is used in the context of ancient and authoritative Hindu scriptures, normally referred to four Vedas and ten early Upanishads. Shruti texts are believed to be the outcome of the divine revelation through anubhava (direct experience) or of primordial origin realized by ancient Rishis (sages). In Hinduism, the Guru–Shishya Parampara played a crucial role in preservation and dissemination of knowledge through Shruti tradition (oral lore) all along the Vedic age and for long in post-Vedic time too. The Hinduism has a common belief that knowledge and wisdom of Vedas had been preserved and passed on by sages to disciples through the lineage of Guru-Shishya tradition and they were documented in text form much later. The system of Gurukul run on the principles of Shruti tradition in ancient India is still prevalent in some parts of the country.
At the time of initiation, the Guru imparts a Gurumantra to his disciple in acknowledgment that the former has bestowed his grace upon the latter. Although the term Gurumantra includes ‘mantra’, but mostly it is the name of God that the disciple is regularly expected to chant. Every person has a name given by the parents that represents the person’s physical body (Prakruti). Under Guru-Shishya Parampara, another name (spiritual) is given by the Guru to the disciple that is in accordance with the God Principle. The spirit behind the new nomenclature is that the disciple now belongs to God Principle and should forget his previous identity.
Sampradaya, Ashram and Akhara
Hinduism has a long tradition of passing knowledge through a succession of teachers and disciples through various generations. The traditional word used for this passage of knowledge is called Parampara. The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta is one such illustration that passed down to several millennia through the series of Daiva, Rishi and Manava Paramparas. As already explained earlier, the Parampara implies "an uninterrupted series or succession". Such established Parampara representing Acharyas (teachers), disciples and followers in Hinduism is often given the name of a Sampradaya or School of Thought; the Advaita Vedanta being one. Ashram is a traditional concept of ancient India which many accomplished seers and sages used to establish as living and learning centre for self and disciples of the same Parampara. The Akhara is relatively of a more recent origin and a place for the religious seekers of renunciation and spirituality with the facilities for boarding, lodging and practice.
Characteristics of Worthy Guru and Shishya
It is often said that this is not the disciple who finds Guru, instead this is the Guru who discovers a disciple. This in essence means that only a worthy disciple is accepted by the worthy Guru because the latter has intuition and foresight to fathom the potential and capabilities of the former. It’s not that none has ever achieved salvation without a Guru but the guidance of a Guru certainly makes a difference and makes it easier for the seekers.
A worthy Guru should have all the attributes that an ideal teacher possesses such as such being knowledgeable, omniscient and yearning to impart spiritual knowledge and wisdom to suitable disciples. Then he should also possess good communication and listening skills, deep knowledge, friendliness, approachability and caring ability, Besides, any accomplished Guru’s real quality is Atmanubhuti (Self-realization). Unless he is self-realized with the years of Sadhana (meditation) and practice, he cannot provide true guidance to his disciples in pursuance of spirituality and salvation. Only thus an accomplished Guru can have a qualification and genuine yearning to impart spiritual knowledge to his disciple. Paramhansa Ramakrishna is known to have once said, “If even one individual is emancipated by my talk, I will be happy no matter what the consequences with respect to my health are. It is really a punishment for me if I am prohibited from conversing with those who love me so much and travel great distances to meet me. If I do not speak to them, meet them, then how will I remain in good health?”
Similarly a worthy disciple will be willing for a complete surrender and obedience to the instructions of the Guru. This surrender includes everything i.e. body, mind and even worldly possessions, as considered necessary by the Guru. Every Guru likes a disciple who devoutly remembers and follows thing told just once and enjoys preaching the individuals who follow and perform instructions with due diligence and devotion. He must believe and have faith in what Guru does to him and this will be possible only if he is fully devoted and emotionally attached to him. Humility and keenness to serve his Guru are otherr attributes that every disciple must practice. Also a disciple should never try to test or analyze his Guru's actions because it reflects his arrogance and lack of faith. In the usual terms, an examiner is superior to the examinee (pupil). If the disciple feels one is superior, then how can one accept him as one’s Guru. Finally, every disciple seeking the spiritual wisdom must have Mumukshutva i.e. the desire for self-realization because the Guru can show the path but ultimately it is the disciple's intense desire and practice that leads to salvation.
A worthy Guru teaches his disciples with a positive attitude and equal treatment but his love towards them is like parents, who love all children equally but a variable affection is often seen depending upon the level of children’s progress and prosperity. Besides, a good Guru is protective of his disciples and appreciates their spiritual progress and accomplishment without any expectation or offering. An accomplished Guru is already self-realized, and thus emancipated while living; hence he is in a position to emancipate his disciples too. Many accomplished Hindu seers like Saint Dnyaneshwar and Saint Tukaram held that the path to salvation cannot be found without a Sadguru (spiritual teacher). Acknowledging Guru’s importance and glory, Adi Sankara is known to have once said that there was no title suitable in all the three worlds for a Sadguru.
Guru and Teacher
A teacher in common parlance is a person who helps disciple (student) to acquire knowledge, competence and virtues, and such a role can be taken by anyone including own elders in the family. In the usual course, the role of teacher is largely formal and continuous being discharged at a school or institution of formal education. The common method of such formal teaching is that the respective teacher would prepare his lesson plans and deliver it to an assembly of students in a classroom or small groups or even individual pupil in certain contingencies. Teachers are mostly paid professionals who teach, test and evaluate the students and even interact with parents as per a curriculum. In a nutshell, he acts as a resource specialist, mentor, support and helping hand to his students in a particular specialty.
The institution of Guru is an ancient concept of Indian religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhist traditions. Traditionally, a guru is much more than a teacher as apart from his expertise in karma based education and training, he is most often also a self-realized spiritual leader and guide that initiate the seekers (disciples) to spirituality and shows the path of salvation. It is often said in an abstract way that the Guru will find you when you are ready for your journey to begin. This Guru Parampara has been in vogue in Hinduism at least since the middle of first millennium BCE, when the Upanishads were being composed. A lineage of many accomplished and self-realized Gurus (sages) and their Ashrams carrying Guru-Shishya Parampara is well-documented in many Hindu texts.
The basic difference between the Teacher and Guru could be explained in simple terms, which is akin to the 'takes' and 'makes'. While a teacher takes the responsibility for the disciples’ education and growth in a particular discipline, the Guru makes the disciple responsible for own growth on overall basis by serving as beacon and dispeller of darkness. Ordinarily, the teacher has limited role and is paid for what he delivers to the disciples but the Guru guides his disciples as self-less soul without seeking a return from them or society. A Guru is a counselor and mentor, a parent in mind and soul at a given time, and an inspirational device that helps the disciples to learn the meaning and purpose of life apart from the expected specific knowledge and skill. As his disciple’s spiritual guide, the Guru also helps former to explore the potentialities already realized by the latter.
Guru Parampara in Modern Age
In the modern age, due to overall advancement in science, technology and material comforts, both the material and spiritual life has become more complex, and the same complexity is experienced in the age old Guru-Shishya Parampara. In Guru-disciple Relationship, role of the former is now not limited to imparting knowledge through sermon or teaching to his disciples for attaining spiritual experiences and self-realization but also extended to their worldly progression, accomplishments and well-being. If in the past, the bond between the two was complete more at a subtle level and beyond material ties, then now many Gurus assist disciples at the material level too in overcoming their worldly needs including financial status, allaying fears and problems, taking corrective measures for his faults, desires and expectations and even forewarning him of unfavourable and unforeseen contingencies, either directly or indirectly, and either genuinely so or simply by pretending so.
This nemesis has posed another serious problem before the society particularly in India where the Guru-Shishya Parampara still continues to have strong roots. Seekers tend to seek guidance of the spiritual gurus even for all kinds of their worldly problems and wishful desires. For instance, poor people seek money and prosperity; people suffering from health problems seek miraculous cure; troubled with constant failures in life, people want easy success with least efforts; couples without children in family want blessings of Gurus for a child or children; people seeking money, name and fame want success in business or politics; and the wishlist is too long and endless. These developments have prompted many quacks and criminals in the society to pose as Gurus and saints taking advantage of human weaknesses. Some of them have even built empires (technically called Ashrama or Akharas) with money, power and influence in a short time exploiting and prospering upon the sentiments of weak, vulnerable and often greedy seekers (disciples).
In recent years, some of such fake gurus indulged in nefarious activities including cheating, rape, murder, sex racket and other heinous crimes have even been prosecuted and convicted under the laws of the land. Prompted by controversies surrounding these self-styled godmen and gurus, the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, the apex body of Hindu saints and seers, has released a list of such ‘fake saints’ recommending a crackdown on them through legislation. While releasing their names, the Parishad President Swami Narendra Giri even appealed to common people to be aware of such charlatans bringing disrepute to sadhus and sanyasis. The condemned list contains names like Asaram Bapu, Radhe Maa alias Sukhwinder Kaur, Sachchidanand Giri, Gurmeet Singh alias Ram Rahim, Swami Omji alias Vinodanand Jha, Nirmal Baba alias Nirmaljeet Singh, Ichchadhari Bhimanand alias Shivmurti Dwivedi, Swami Aseemanand, Rampal, Narayan Sai, Acharya Kushmuni and Brahaspati Giri.
In a country that boasts of the accomplished Gurus and spiritual leaders like Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Paramhansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi even in modern times, the aforesaid list represents the dark dimension of the Indian Gurus. Some other proclaimed Gurus and saints who did not come under the clutches of law yet control large empires of money, power and following including celebrities, politicians and sportsmen. For illustration, one such guru and spiritual leader was Sathya Sai Baba (died 24 April 2011) who purportedly materialized vibhuti (holy ash) and small objects such as rings, watches, necklaces, etc. to create impact on disciples and followers. Besides, numerous reports of miraculous healings, resurrection, clairvoyance, bilocation, and alleged omnipotence and omniscience had also been purportedly attributed to him by devotees and followers in the past. However, some of these modern gurus and saints have also established free hospitals, clinics, schools, drinking water projects, auditoriums, and so on.
I recall from my days in government service, one of my colleagues was functioning in a senior position with advisory role to Army in a particular area. I was asked to investigate his conduct because a complaint was received against him from the army authorities that his office was pressurizing them to divert rations (flour, rice, lentils etc.) to the Ashram of his Guru located in the state of Uttarakhand. Here the point is if some money or material is required in Guru’s Ashram, this should be done by the willing disciple from his personal resources instead of misusing public money and other resources for the very purpose. The Guru is wrong if he accepts gifts from suspect sources and the Shishya is dishonest if he employs unethical means to serve his Guru. These days a large number of fake spiritual gurus and saints have opened Ashrams and Akharas and disciples as genuine seekers of Guru’s grace and spirituality should be watchful so that they are not caught in their web. Such fake saints and gurus are like cancer on the society and are bringing bad name to the pious tradition of the Guru-Shishya Parampara.
The Guru-Shishya Parampara of the Indian religions has been a unique and marvel tradition of dissemination and continuity of the spiritual knowledge and learning over the millennia. Needless to say that Hindu saints and gurus seldom took interest in materialism, amassing wealth and running after name, fame and following till last century. The problems and issues briefly referred to in the foregoing paragraphs are largely the fallacies and fall out of the modern age living. This situation primarily raises corresponding issues and questions to the seekers (disciples). Should they seek assistance and blessings of a Guru for the material benefits and accomplishments or for spiritual upliftment and bliss? In the former case, they are certainly putting themselves and/or their families in a great risk of falling prey to fake gurus, who may cheat them of their money and belongings or even drag them to the world of cheating, lust and deceit with a criminal intent. In the latter case, seekers may not have much difficulty in locating an accomplished, selfless and non-controversial Guru.
Continued to Part XXXVII
More by : Dr. Jaipal Singh