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The Role of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma

The Role of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma

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The Nature of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma
The Nature of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma

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The Role of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma

By Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.)

tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah

³Just try to learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the Truth.´ (Bhagavad Gita, 4:34)

The concept of practicing spiritual life under the guidance of an authentic and qualified guru, or spiritual teacher, has been central to the entire Dharmic world-view from the beginning of time, down to our present day. So important has the role of the guru always been in Vedic culture, that there is no Hindu tradition or sampradaya (school of thought) in all of Sanatana Dharma that does not offer the greatest of respect to the importance of the guru. The great Vedantic text known at the Vedanta-sara paints the following dramatic picture in order to convey the importance of having a guru in one¶s spiritual pursuit: janana-maranadi-samsaranala-santapto dipta-sira jala-rasim iva upahara-panbm sotriyam brahma-nistham gurum upasrtya tam anusarati

³Just as a person whose head is on fire runs to water, one who burns from the flames of birth, death, old age, and disease in the holocaust of material existence must run to a genuine guru for relief. Such a guru must be fixed in the Absolute Truth and well-versed in the scriptures. One should approach him with all that is needed for sacrifice and submit to him as a disciple, ready to carry out his every instruction." (Vedanta-Sara 11)

In our present era, the term ³guru´ has become very well known even throughout the non-Hindu world, in addition to being known within Sanatana Dharma. Indeed, the very word ³guru´ has today become a part of the standard English lexicon with such terms as ³computer guru´, ³health guru´, ³economics guru´, etc. being employed in daily usage. While the use of the word has become widespread, however, the sacrosanct importance of the station of guru is not as deeply understood in contemporary society as it once was. In the following work, I will be briefly explaining the traditional Dharmic understanding of the importance of the guru in the life of the spiritual practitioner, as well as dispelling some of the more common myths often wrongly associated with the principle of guru.

Interestingly, the very word ³guru´ itself is actually a somewhat generalized term that simply means a competent teacher of any kind. Any skilled expert who is authorized to teach a specific subject can be considered a guru in the most general of senses. Thus, there can be a sitar guru, a martial arts guru, a medicinal arts guru, or a fine arts guru. When the word is used in the overtly spiritual sense, however, then we are talking about a guru of a categorically different nature. The spiritual guru is specifically designated as a ³sadguru´ or a teacher of Truth. It is the sadguru, the conveyer of Truth, who serves as the underlying model of any and all other types of gurus.

It has always been universally recognized that one can only learn a specialized field of important knowledge from a qualified and well-trained teacher, an expert on that particular subject who has both theoretical knowledge, as well as the acquired experience necessary to bring that knowledge to life. If one were to study to become a medical doctor, for example, it is understood that the only way to truly understand medicine is to go to a recognized school, and learn under the instruction of very experienced professors who themselves are recognized doctors trained and authorized to teach. If we attempt to learn to become a doctor by merely reading books on our own without the benefit of such expert guidance, we will be doing both ourselves and our later patients the greatest of disservices. Rather than curing our patients, in fact, we will most likely harm them due to our not having learned medicine from a living authority.

Similarly, it has been universally recognized in our Hindu tradition since the most ancient of times that if one wishes to understand and make progress in the realm of spirituality, one must also seek guidance under the most able spiritual professionals available. Such a spiritual professional is the guru.

According to the Bhagavata Purana: tasmad gurum prapadyeta jijnasum sreyam uttamam sabde pare ca nisnatam brahmany upasamasrayam

³One who is searching for the Ultimate Truth must surrender unto a spiritual master, a guru. A guru knows the inner meaning of the Vedas, is fixed in the Absolute Truth and is expert in the shastra, the revealed scriptures.´ (Bhagavata Purana, 11.3.21)

Of all types of gurus, the scriptures (Shastras) of Sanatana Dharma have recognized the Acharya as the most important form that the principle of guru can take. Acharyavan puruso veda, ³Only one who has an Acharya can know the Truth.´ (Chandogya Upanisad, 6.18.2) It is only under the guidance of an Acharya who knows the Truth that a seeker can in turn know Truth.

The sadguru is a spiritual teacher. The Acharya, moreover, is considered to be a sadguru who has attained a much higher stage of personal spiritual development, and who thus has more responsibility in the realm of Dharmic leadership. An Acharya is a spiritual preceptor who represents a living lineage (sampradaya) of Sanatana Dharma, and who embodies the teachings of Dharma is his own life, thus teaching the world by his own personal living example. While every Acharya fulfills the function of a guru, not every guru can be considered an Acharya.

More than merely being a teacher in the formal academic sense, however, the Acharya guru is recognized as also being someone who possesses divine qualities due to his own years of

practice and inner realization, and who thus perfectly personifies the fruit of spiritual teachings in his own life. acinoti yam sastrartham acare sthapayaty api svayam acarate yasma acharyas tena kirtitam

³An Acharya is one who fully understands the conclusions of the revealed scriptures. His own behavior reflects his deep realization, and thus he is a living example of divine precept. He is therefore known as an Acharya, or one who teaches the meaning of the scriptures both by word and deed.´ (Vayu Purana)

The qualified and authentic guru is not merely someone who teaches the Truth verbally, but who also lives that Truth perfectly, and who then reflects that Truth to his students in a living and dynamic way.

In the present dark Age of Conflict (Kali Yuga), unfortunately, we more often than not encounter unqualified and self-anointed individuals who claim to be gurus while usually falling very far short of the true meaning of this term. A true guru is not merely a conning "miracle" worker pretending to pull sacred ash out of his sleeve like a third-rate magician; nor is he someone who merely gives comforting hugs but does not deliver philosophical truth that leads his disciples to liberation; nor is he simply an actor who is professionally photographed looking toward the skies above with a big toothy grin; nor is the guru someone who abuses his disciples sexually, financially, emotionally or spiritually with the consequent excuse that he was merely practicing some heretofore unknown form of "tantra". Rather, a true guru possesses an ability that no fake spiritual teacher can ever pretend to have. The true and authentic guru personifies the Truth in everything he thinks, says and does; and has the ability to help others achieve that very same Truth. Truth does not cheat. Truth does not abuse. Truth doesn't need your money. Truth liberates you.

Often unqualified pretender gurus do not possess the prerequisite qualities, training, and characteristics necessary to call themselves a guru in the authentic and scripturally-based sense of this term. The scriptures of Sanatana Dharma have given us very clear and unambiguous guidelines of many of the most important qualities necessary in order to recognize whether or not a person is in fact an authentic and qualified guru. Some of these guidelines are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita:

duhkhesv anudvigna-manah sukhesu vigata-sprhah vita-raga-bhaya-krodhah sthita-dhir munir ucyate ³One who is not disturbed in spite of the threefold miseries, who is not elated when experiencing pleasantness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind.´ (Bhagavad Gita, 2:56)

Thus, the sadguru (true guru) is inwardly detached and transcends the sufferings of this world, accepting material pleasure and pain, suffering and pleasantness with equal demeanor. It is as a result of the true guru¶s transcendent status - and the consequent calm, peace, and gravitas that the guru exudes at all times - that the true guru has the ability to help his student to similarly transcend the darkness of ignorance.

More, the true guru exhibits certain necessary inherent qualities that are a reflection of the fact that he is presencing the Divine in his own life. Again, the Bhagavad Gita gives us several lists of these important transcendental qualities of the true guru, or the liberated sage, including the following important characteristics:

³The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to

faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor--these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.´ (Bhagavad Gita, 16:1-3)

In this way, the guru personifies the fruit of a sattvic (spiritually positive) lifestyle and of years of meditative practice.

A true guru is known, not merely by how much charisma they may possess, or by what cheap supposed miracles they seemingly perform, or by how popular they have become with the gullible masses due to well-formulated PR and marketing campaigns. Rather, true gurus are known by whether or not they personify the qualities of a guru that are clearly outlined in the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma. Any person who claims to be a true guru, but who does not exhibit all the qualities of a true guru that are revealed in the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, is a false guru and must be immediately rejected as a charlatan if the student is going to make any progress toward the goal of transcendental realization.

It is precisely because the true guru both personifies the very highest philosophical teachings (siddhanta), as well as the moral and yogic behavior described in our scriptures that the guru has the ability to deliver us from ignorance to wisdom, from darkness to the light, and from bondage to freedom.

According to our scriptures, when we find ourselves in the presence of such an authentic guru, it is almost as if we are in the very presence of God Himself; because like God, the sadguru has the ability to show us Truth, and to thus set us free. In the Bhagavata Purana, Sri Krishna confirms this in His instructions to His great devotee Uddhava: acharyam mam vijaniyam navamanyeta karhicit na martya buddhyasuyeta sarva-deva mayo gurum

[Krishna told Uddhava] "Know the Acharya as My very Self. I am the Acharya. Never envy the Acharya; never blaspheme him or consider him to be an ordinary man. Because the Acharya channels the infinite, He is greater than the sum total of all the finite. Thus, he is more important than all the gods.´ (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.17.27)

Further, Sri Krishna explains in the same sacred text that to even view the liberated Acharya as an ordinary man, and to not offer one¶s due respects to such an exhalted guru, is considered by Him to be a great offence (guru-maha-aparadha): yasya saksad bhagavati jnana-dipa prade gurau martyasad-dhim srutam tasya sarvam ku-jara-saucavat ³The guru must be considered to be like the Supreme Lord Himself, because he bestows the light of transcendental knowledge upon his disciples. Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the guru is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated. His attempts to make progress in spiritual life - his Vedic studies and scriptural knowledge, his penances and austerities, and his worship of the deity - are all as useless as the bathing of an elephant who rolls in the mud after his bath.´ (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.20.17)

Confirmation of these Vedic instructions on the nature of sadguru is found throughout the length and breadth of the Hindu scriptures. For example, in the Padma Purana it is explained that: gurus nara-matir yasya va naraki sam, ³One who thinks that the guru is an ordinary man is said to live in ignorance.´ In this way, we see that the totality of the scriptures speak in one, unified and authoritative voice on the importance of the guru and the unique role of the guru in the life of one who claims the desire to know Truth.

Later in this same conversation, Uddhava replies to Sri Krishna¶s instruction in the same vein:

naivopayanty apacitim kavayas tavesa brahmayusapi krtam rddha mudam smarantam yo'ntar bahis tanu-bhrtam asubham vidhunvann acarya-caittya vapusa sva-gatim vyanakti

[Uddhava said to Sri Krishna] "O my Lord! Transcendental poets and experts in spiritual science could not fully express their indebtedness to You, even if they were endowed with the lifetime of Brahma, for You appear in two features - externally as the Acharya and internally as the Paramatman, the Supreme Self - to deliver the embodied living beings by revealing to them your devotional service and teaching them how to approach you on the path of divine love.´ (SrimadBhagavatam 11.29.6)

In addition to explaining both the nature and the qualities of the sadguru, the scriptures also explain that it is likewise very important to understand the important qualities that must be present in a sincere and qualified student. In the Katha Upanishad, for example, we read the following: sravanayapi bahubhir yo na labhyam srnvanto 'pi bahavo na vidyum acharyo 'sya vakta kusalo 'sya labhda acharyo jnata kushala nushishtam

³Many cannot even hear about the soul, and even after hearing about the soul, many cannot understand it; this is because it is hard to find an Acharya who is a genuine seer of the truth. Such a qualified Acharya is a great soul and is very rare. At the same time, realization of the truth can be had only by those disciples who carefully follow the qualified Acharya¶s teachings and become expert in the science of God. Such disciples are also very rare. Thus it is that only a few ever come to know the soul in truth.´ (Katha Upanisad, 1.2.7.)

To find a sincere and worthy student is thus explained as being just as difficult as finding a

qualified and worthy sadguru. The highest attainment of transcendent Truth, and the personal spiritual liberation (moksha) that results from such a realization, is the most difficult goal to realize. Thus, Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita: Manushyam sahasreshu Kashchid yatati siddhaye Yatatam api siddhanam Kashchin mam vetti tattvatah ³Of many thousands of men, one will attempt to reach perfection; and of the few who reach this goal, only a rare soul will perhaps know Me as I am.´ (Bhagavad Gita, 7:3)

When a sincere student and a qualified sadguru finally do find each other, and unite in the eternal process of spiritual exchange ± the guru sharing his insight, instruction, and empowering presence with the student; and the student learning and growing spiritually with humility, sincerity, openness and eagerness ± we then witness the perfect conditions necessary for the celebration and living of Truth. If you are seeking Truth, then seek the guidance of one who has seen the Truth. Seek the sadguru.

For more information on how to follow the path of Sanatana Dharma, please visit: http://www.dharmacentral.com

About the Author

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.)

Sri Acharyaji has been practicing and teaching Dharma for over 35 years. With a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is the Founder-Acharya of the International Sanatana Dharma Society and the Director of the Center for Dharma Studies.

Sri Acharyaji is currently recognized as one of the world's foremost scholars on the Yoga tradition, Dharma and meditation, as well as being a truly authentic spiritual teacher.

With a very large international following, Sri Acharyaji is especially renowned for his highly authentic approach to spirituality, his authoritative and scholarly method of teaching, and his clear emphasis on serious spiritual practice and direct experience of self-realization. He has lectured on Dharma at dozens of top universities, such as Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, and Northwestern. He has also served as a consultant for such Fortune 500 companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology.

Sri Acharyaji's teachings stress the achievement of enlightenment through the practice of meditation, Yoga, and directly experiencing the presence of the Divine. Another overarching aspect of Sri Acharyaji's teachings focuses on the importance of love, compassion and service toward all living beings.

Whether speaking to an audience of thousands, or having a heart-felt discussion with only one person, Sri Acharyaji vividly conveys a deeply moving sense of compassion, peace, humility, and spiritual insight that has endeared him to thousands of students and admirers throughout the world.

For more information about the International Sanatana Dharma Society and the teachings of Sri Acharyaji, please contact us at www.dharmacentral.com.

Copyright Notice, (c) 2010-2012, Dharmacentral.com

You have the author's permission to publish and/or forward this article for educational purposes only if it is left thoroughly unaltered, unchanged and unedited (with the inclusion of this notice), and if full credit is given to the author.

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