The Ultimate Teacher of Life
What is a Guru? · Simplified.
We have been taught since we were born. Our parents have taught us the basics of life and how to survive. Our academic teachers and professors have taught us technical knowledge in a specific area of study. Our siblings teach us self-defense. Our friends teach us the importance of a second family. Our spouse teaches us how to be caring and patient…
But as Hinduism says, there are two types of knowledge— aparā vidya and parā vidya.
Aparā vidya, literally translating to lower knowledge or worldly knowledge, is imparted from all of the above. However, parā vidya, literally translating to upper/higher knowledge or absolute spiritual knowledge, can not be fully imparted from one’s parents, teachers, etc.
Tru spiritual knowledge can only be imparted from two entities — God and a true guru.
Simplified. Series Explained
This series will look into common Hindu concepts by using the Hindu scriptures as a reference source. Concepts will range from everyday knowledge to deep philosophical knowledge. This series aims to help one understand basic scriptural references within the context of the greater concept. It provides a healthy amount of challenge while providing a simple analysis of the references.
Yoga Guru. Engineering Guru. In a globalized world, many words are tossed around without understanding the deeper meaning behind them, one of which being guru.
The Advayataraka Upanishad explains the true meaning of the word, saying, “The syllable gu means darkness, the syllable ru, he who dispels them,
Because of the power to dispel darkness, the guru is thus named.”
A guru is one who removes darkness, or ignorance of the self, and instills light in the form of spiritual knowledge.
A guru is highly venerated in Hinduism. It is not a superficial veneration, as we will see later, but a form of pure devotion. The Guru Gitā, a portion of the Skanda Purāna, was written by Veda Vyasa. The Guru Gitā is a conversation between Lord Shiva and his wife, Pārvatiji, on the importance of a guru, from which one of the most well-known verses of Hinduism was said,
“Gururbrahmā Gururvisnur Gururdevo Mahesvarah
Guru Sākshāt Parabrahma Tasmai Srī Gurave Namah”
“The guru is Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh (Shiva). To such is a guru, who is the manifest form of Parabrahman (i.e. God), I offer my venerations to.” (Guru Gita 32)
In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna explains one view on the goal of life:
Brahma-bhūtah prasannātmā na shochati na kānkshati |
samah sarveshu bhūteshu mad-bhaktim labhate parām ||
“One who is thus transcendentally situated (i.e. brahmarup) at once realizes the Supreme Brahman (i.e. Parabrahman) and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state, he attains pure devotional service unto Me (i.e. Parabrahman).” (Bhagavad Gita 8.54)
The goal for a spiritual aspirant is to ultimately attain spiritual perfection and serve God. One can try to do achieve spiritual perfection by one’s self through austerities, reading, contemplation, etc. However, for most people, it is far too difficult to achieve while maintaining one’s worldly duties. This is why a guru is important.
One of my favorite couplets that I learned as a child is by Sant Kabir,
Guru Govind donu khade, kisko lāgu pāy,
Balihari Gurudevaki jinhe Govind diyo batāy.
“The Guru and Govind (i.e. God), are present before me, to whom shall I bow down first? Glory to the Guru since he showed me Govind (i.e. God).”
A simple yet profound couplet! A guru is a guide that leads one to understand the true nature of God. A guru has the complete spiritual knowledge required to feel bliss while alive. This is why a guru is venerated to such an extent in Hinduism. By following the words and understanding the teachings of a true guru, one will feel inner peace and bliss.
Yasya deve parā bhaktir Yathā deve tathā gurau
Tasyaite kathitā hy arthāh Prakāsante mahātmanah
“Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both God and the guru, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.23).
In addition, the true guru is the singular source of liberation (besides God). In Hinduism, the concept of samsāra or punarjanma (the cycles of births and deaths) can only be broken when one finds the true guru, acquires the virtues, and worships God with a true understanding.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan expounds upon a key verse from the Shrimad Bhāgwat in his discourse:
“Prasangam-ajaram pāsham-ātmānaha kavayo viduhu |
Sa eva sādhushu kruto moksha-dvāram-apāvrutam ||
‘[As described above,] If a person maintains profound love towards the Ekāntik Sant of God just as resolutely as he maintains profound love towards his own relatives, then the gateway to liberation opens for him.’” (Vachanamrut Gadhada I-54)
A guru can help a spiritual aspirant understand one aspect, whether it be the acquisition of spiritual knowledge, following the codes of conduct, developing detachment, offering devotion, etc. However, there can only be one true guru whom you seek refuge in while treading the spiritual path. The true guru — or Satpurush — is, among many things:
- the only one who can fully liberate one’s ātmā
- the one who can allow one to feel bliss while alive.
- the one who contains all the virtues — sarva gun sampan
- is the one that is described in the scriptures
- is the manifest form of God (i.e. has God present within them)
There are numerous ways to find a true guru, or Satpurush. The Shrimad Bhagvat explains 39 redemptive qualities of a true guru. If one finds a guru with all 39 qualities, they can be said to have the liberating qualities said above:
Truth, purity, compassion, forgiveness, renunciation, contentment, simplicity; Mental control, sensory control, austerity, equality, tolerance, worldly disinterest, scriptural obedience. Experiential knowledge, detachment, power, courage, illustrious personality, vigor, remembrance; Independence, skill, beauty, patience, kindheartedness. Maturity, love, integrity, endurance, radiance, strength, lordship; Profundity, mental stability, faith in God, fame, worthy of reverence, humility.” (Shrimad Bhagvat 1:16:26–28)
Nishkulanand Swami, a poet from Bhagwan Swaminarayan’s time, wrote 34 couplets on the greatness and qualities of a true guru. Numerous Hindu poets have described various virtues and qualities of a true guru through devotional poetry.
When searching for a guru, it is vital to read, learn, and understand their life and teachings in depth. If one feels inner peace when seeking the refuge of the true guru, who has the qualities above, then that guru is worthy of reverence.
For me, the true guru is His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj and currently, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj. From reading about their life to understanding their teachings, it is clear that I have met the true guru to guide me in aspects of my life.