Guru: Not just a teacher

“A Guru is one who tells you to throw away all crutches, he would ask you to walk and if you fall he will say that you will rise again and walk. …. And that’s what I did. I broke the mala which was like a dog collar around my neck and flushed it down the toilet. “Get up on your own two feet, no matter how shaky they are and walk,” I said to myself. Once I did that there was no looking back. “These are the words of great film maker, director, seeker and philosopher Mr. Mahesh Bhatt, which he said at a spiritual conference at Varanasi few years ago. He was mentioning his Guru UG Krishnamurthy, one of the greatest philosophers, thinkers of 20th century.

Today on the occasion of Guru Purnima, I wished and sought blessings of all my Gurus, guides and mentors, who have helped me at various stages in my life and are still there for me when I need them. They removed my ignorance, instilled confidence, restored belief, gave knowledge and shared their wisdom. One such master who blessed me today also shared few lines of wisdom about Guru. He said “To stand Alone is to be uncorrupted, innocent, free of all tradition, of dogma, of opinion, of what another says, and so on. A real guru frees you from himself.”

The alphabets making up the word Guru itself signifies its meaning. ‘Gu’ means the darkness of ignorance and ‘ru’ indicates the one who destroys; therefore, the one who removes our ignorance (about our true selves) is our guru.

A guru doesn’t give you a torch to remove the darkness, he converts you into torch, so that you remove your darkness and also become torch for others. A real guru is not interested in having an army of disciples, a real guru is interested in finding the torch material and enlightens the person to see the torch within, light it and spread the glow. The guru is not merely a teacher but also a guide, mentor, almost a parent, a role model and a friend. The term guru means “the remover of ignorance”, it also means “heavy” — i.e. heavy with knowledge and experience. India has the rich heritage of Gurukuls, where disciples stayed with Gurus in their protection and guidance; they not only acquired knowledge but also learnt and imbibed value system. Gurus were under observation, so it was leadership by example model being practiced. A Guru had to practice what he preached. The system of ashrams practiced in India ensured that every child during Brahmcharya Asharam had mandatory education, acquisition of knowledge, skill and wisdom with the Guru in his Gurukul. This ensured a very high literacy percentage, almost 97% , till British identified it as biggest hurdle to their imperialistic ambitions and went all out to destroy it.

Our first Gurus are our parents. Mother is the Aadi Guru (the first teacher) of the child. But after a while the mother hands over her child to a worthy Guru who would guide and groom her child into a responsible, knowledgeable citizen and help him develop his buddhi and vivek.

The Guru is different from English word teacher. The word teacher does not define Guru. Teaching is just one function of Guru. The difference between the two is similar to Allopathic system of medicine and Ayurvedic System of medicine. Allopathy is symptomatic and handles one disease and has specialists who specialize in a particular disease, similarly a teacher teaches a specific subject and his role is limited to impart knowledge in just one area of his specialization, whereas Ayurved considers that the entire body is one and the treatment should be of the cause not the effect, Similarly the Guru is responsible for all round development of the disciple, encompassing spiritual, social, moral, practical aspects of life. A teacher can evolve to be a Guru when he understands the real essence of being a Guru, he is no longer a information delivery person, delivering the information collected over the years, but realizes his role and the responsibilities and handles his pride and ego.

As long as pride and ego have control over the mind one can never absorb or assimilate and practice the teachings.

The Guru should be committed to teaching, instructing and guiding the disciple in his/her spiritual practice and the unfolding of the inherent spiritual qualities which are — knowledge, firm resolve, universal compassion, good conduct and service.

The Kathopanishad describes the philosophy of Guru Shishya relationship and collaborative learning.

ॐ सह नाववतु | सह नौ भुनक्तु | सह वीर्यं करवावहै|
तेजस्विनावधीतमस्तु | मा विद्विषावहै |
ॐ शान्तिः | शान्तिः | शान्तिः ||

Om, May God Protect us Both (the Teacher and the Student) (during the journey of awakening our Knowledge), May God Nourish us Both (with that spring of Knowledge which nourishes life when awakened), May we Work Together with Energy and Vigour (cleansing ourselves with that flow of energy for the Knowledge to manifest), May our Study be Enlightening (taking us towards the true Essence underlying everything), and not giving rise to Hostility (by constricting the understanding of the Essence in a particular manifestation only),
Om, Peace, Peace, Peace (be there in the three levels – Adhidaivika, Adhibhautika and Adhyatmika).

The Chāṇḍogya Upanishad says:

श्रुतँ्ह्येव मे भगवद्दृशेभ्य आचार्याद्धैव विद्या विदिता
साधिष्ठं प्रापतीति तस्मै हैतदेवोवाचात्र ह न किंचन
वीयायेति वीयायेति ॥ ४.९.३॥

‘Only the knowledge received from a teacher (Āchārya) leads one to the goal.’

तस्य यथाभिनहनं प्रमुच्य प्रब्रूयादेतां दिशं गन्धारा
एतां दिशं व्रजेति स ग्रामाद्ग्रामं पृच्छन्पण्डितो मेधावी
गन्धारानेवोपसम्पद्येतैवमेवेहाचार्यवान्पुरुषो वेद
तस्य तावदेव चिरं यावन्न विमोक्ष्येऽथ सम्पत्स्य इति ॥ ६.१४.२॥

‘The one who has a teacher will know the truth.’

What are the qualities in a guru which make us seek the path of salvation from him? How should we approach such a guru? It is the scriptures themselves which answer this question:

परीक्ष्य लोकान् कर्मचितान् ब्राह्मणो
निर्वेदमायान्नास्त्यकृतः कृतेन ।
तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगच्छेत्
समित्पाणिः श्रोत्रियं ब्रह्मनिष्ठम् ॥ १२॥

‘With sacrificial wood in hands, one should approach a guru, who is both a ‘Śrotriya’ and Brahmā-niṣṭhā’. (Muṇḍaka Upanishad 1.2.12)

Here the first adjective describing an ideal guru is ‘Śrotriya’. It means a person who has not only studied, but also lives and acts according to the scriptures (Śruti).
The Guru should not only be well worse in the subject knowledge, but also has done enough abhyaas of his subject, and has all the attributes of teacher as described above.

‘Brahmā-niṣṭhā” means one whose mind is always fixed on the Supreme God (Brahman).

There are many who possess only one of these qualities. However, the ideal guru is one who has both; i.e., these two qualities need to be present together in a person for him to qualify as a guru.

From his explanations the students not only get answers to all their queries – asked or unasked, but their doubts too get dissolved. If the guru is not a Brahmā-niṣṭhā, then his discourses are but mere rote, like that of a parrot.

Each student harbors different queries and doubts depending on his/her background and Saṁskāras. Suitable answers to such a variety of questions can come only from the reservoir of experience, not from books.

Therefore, it is said in the Gītā:

उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्वदर्शिनः
‘Knowledge will be given to you by those who are knowledgeable and have seen the Truth.’ (4.34)

Here knowledgeable means one having the knowledge of the scriptures. Seer of Truth (Tattva-Darshi) means one who has realized the ‘Truth’ as it actually is. It is only the teachings of such a teacher that can take one to the desired goal and not that of others.

Such a self-satisfied guru is always happy and content. In the Chāṇḍogya Upanishad such a person is addressed as ‘Saumya’. Saumya means calm and soothing like the moon (Soma).

Not only this, such a guru is so compassionate that he reveals all he knows to his deserving students without keeping anything secret.

The knower of God, such a guru is but God himself. Therefore we need to have complete faith in him. In fact, the scriptures also emphasize that it is the duty of such a guru to impart knowledge to his deserving students:

तस्मै स विद्वानुपसन्नाय सम्यक्
प्रशान्तचित्ताय शमान्विताय ।
येनाक्षरं पुरुषं वेद सत्यं प्रोवाच
तां तत्त्वतो ब्रह्मविद्याम् ॥ १.२.१३॥

‘To the peaceful student who has won over his senses, the wise guru should disclose the essential knowledge which will reveal the Supreme God.’ (Muṇḍaka Upanishad 1.2.13)

The Great Śankarāchārya says:

‘A knowledgeable guru should definitely impart knowledge to the worthy pupil who has approached him in the correct manner.’ (Commentary on the Praśna Upanishad 6.1)

Gītā tells us how to approach our guru for removing our doubts:
तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया ।
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्वदर्शिनः ॥ ४-३४॥
“You should gain knowledge by prostrating before your guru, asking sincere questions for clearing your doubts, and by serving him” (Bhagavad Gītā 4.34).

Further, fundamental to obtaining knowledge from the guru is our faith, called in Sanskrit as ‘Śraddhā’. Śraddhā means having complete faith in the Word – both of the scriptures and of the guru.

The word Śraddhā is made up of two constituents – ‘Śrad’ means truth, and ‘Dha’ means bearing. Thus, the necessary (and sufficient) condition for bearing the truth is Śraddhā.

The Gītā too says:

श्रद्धावाँल्लभते ज्ञानं तत्परः संयतेन्द्रियः
ज्ञानं लब्ध्वा परां शांतिमचिरेणाधिगच्छति

‘Śraddhāvān labhate gyanam – Only the person of faith can gain knowledge.’ (4.39)

Consider for a moment that a seeker accepts an undeserving guru by mistake. When he slowly comes to know that his guru, even though he is a knower of the scriptures, is neither preaching nor living according to them, then the student should leave that guru immediately without fear.

The Mahābhārata says clearly:

‘The one who doesn’t know what is right and what is wrong, and is leading an unrighteous life, that person is to be discarded, even though he may be a guru.’ (Shanti Parva 5.77)

Teacher is a small part of Guru, to really deserve the wishes of Guru Purnima, teachers have to strive a little more. Do some manan (मनन) and introspection, and evaluate if they are worthy to be called a Guru. It’s a matter of choice, decision and implementation of walking the talk.

Pranam and Gratitude to all my Gurus.

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुः गुरुर्देवो महेश्‍वरः ।
गुरु साक्षात्‌ परब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरुवे नमः ॥

Ref. 1. Scriptures as mentioned
2. Websites:,

Contributed by

Mr. K.K. Bajpai
Associate Professor
SMS Varanasi


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