Gururbraḥmā Gururviṣṇuḥ Gururdēvō Mahēśwaraḥ
Gurursākṣāt Paraṃbraḥmaḥ Tasmaiśrī Guravē Namaḥ
Every person who is in any path of life, needs guidance at one point of the time or other. May be a friend, may be a teacher, may be a parent, any body and every body helps us or would have helped us by the time we reach the last stages of life. A ‘help’ is the torch that is offered to us selflessly by another person, when we are struggling in the darkness of the events. But a torch that drives away the ignorance that hovers our true-self, which shows the path of our ascent from the many to ONE, is offered by GURU or The Master. GURU = ‘Guḥ + Ru’, where ‘Guḥ’ mean darkness (hence the words Guha(cave), Gupta(secret) and Gūdhaṃ (deeply hidden), etc.) ‘R’ is the sound of LIGHT and hence is used as expressive aspects (Egyptian SUN god is named ‘RA’). So, GURU, etymologically speaking, is the one who dispels the darkness. This article tries to express the ancient lore of Gurukula (The cult of GURUs), how the student guru relation was and how this is relevant today.
In the search for answers to the human questions, there were few sect of people who elevated themselves from the rest of the humanity, owing to some deep impulse from within. These enlightened ones, saw the miseries of human struggles and offered to help, for those who are worthy. So, they were like normal people in society — having families and homes, but dedicated their lives to teach the earnest. They never forced their opinions onto anyone. But those who came looking for answers, were to follow their instructions as a command, for, without a discipline and steps taken by them, it is highly difficult for the seeker to perceive the TRUTH. But, remember, the path of enlightenment in the vēdic times, was not just sitting and closing eyes, like most of the modern day philosophists/spiritualists’ claim of ‘Dhyāna’. The vēdic times were vibrant and energetic. The gurūs knew the roles to be played by every one in the society. So, they strongly discouraged the path that leaves ones’ duties for the sake of lethargic physical celibacy. They made a society that was functional in all its ways.
What was the scenario? All the parents — rich to poor, royal to non-royal — used to send their kids to the local GURU that the regions had. Specially when they were around 7 years of age. Guru used to observe the students by providing them with different tasks and make a mental note of their behavioral patterns. These patterns symbolize the seeds which represents the trees that they would grow into. Thus, after a thorough observation, a GURU used to divide the students into four categories — You know the four Varṇās (Braḥmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya and Sūdra). If you closely observe, these categories are based on the patterns of behavior and they are not genetic. That means, the branches that they are going to learn will be resonant with their hearts and thus will be pleasing to them – making the learning experience a JOY. Also, if a student changes the nature or his vāsanās take a turn, the guru allocates or changes his branch. The flexibility and the teaching of basic minimum to all the categories, are but few of the positive aspects.
How was the relation between a Guru and Śiṣya? This will be known when we read the mantras of Upanishads — named as Śānti Pāṭhās – peace invocations. A peace invocation is generally uttered before and after an upanishad or veda mantras, etc., invoking peace to the world(s) and the beings therein. In most of these peace invocations, we will see the sentences like — ‘Saha nāvavatu …..‘ or ‘Śaṃ Nō mitra ……… Avatu Vaktāraṃ‘ etc, which mean — ‘May peace (or health, wealth,etc) be given to me as well as to my teacher‘. Because, without teacher’s happiness or health, a student can not attain his wisdom and one teacher lights many a lamp in the hearts of thousands of students. And this not only shows the love of a student, but also the GURU having no ego-issues, because he never thinks — “Who the hell is this kid to ask for my health and wealth, does his family has so much money, that he thinks I am poor? ” — such kind of negativity does not exist in a true GURU. Also, It is said in Taittirīya Upanishad that, a student who lives in the heart of a GURU, achieves the higher states easily. That means, a student should be such that, the GURU should always think about him and his progress. A true GURU elevates himself with the student, by teaching and learning simultaneously. So, the process of learning was a simultaneous and dual process rather than a single one line transmission from GURU to student.
What was the remuneration? A guru is always a giver and not a receiver. So, a true GURU never accepts any material things. But, to put a student in right order, he used to give tasks like fetching things, community service, begging alms, etc. These things made a student selfless and thus the only remuneration for the GURU was to see his students achieve his state of enlightenment or a state above him in terms of realization. But in situations, when a GURU requests, a student did not fight saying that “you should not ask!” A true student, would quench the desire of a GURU — like KRISHNA, brought back his guru’s son from nether regions, at his request. The concept of Guru dalshina is to elevate one’s self and not at all related to money or mundane stuff, as is portrayed these days. An interesting point to note here is, though KRISHNA was God and yet, he also had a GURU. So, GURU is a necessary agent in any human’s path of enlightenment — be it GOD or just a being.
Spiritual significance of GURU? A GURU not only teaches and transmits the wisdom, he also acts as a sink for the sins of his students. The kārmic results that would effect the students in a bad way, are reduced dramatically by the WILL of the GURU. This is one of the greatest boons of having a GURU. This will ease the path of self enlightenment. These kind of things can be seen in the episodes of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, or Sri Ramana మహర్షి or in the autobiography of Sri Yogananda Paramahamsa.
Also, most of the paths are paths on razor’s edge. Take, VEDA: the intonation and pronunciation is as important as symbolism. If uttered wrongly, the mantra may give negative results. Take TANTRA or YOGA — In the path of ascent, when attained with SIDDHĪS/powers, we tend to selfishly use them and fall from as much height as we tread till then. A GURU’s presence will remove these difficulties as he is always there to protect us from such faults.
Should GURU be a physical human? Take the story of Dattātrēya. He had 16 gurus: Moon, a prostitute, a deer, etc. This suggests that a GURU is not a person, but our sense of devotion and earnestness in seeking TRUTH, personified. This also removes the question of gender bias. But I keep using ‘HE’ in this article for Guru, for the reason that, I am pointing to the being inside (Purusha) and not the physical form (prakriti).
But, having a physical GURU helps a lot. Those who do not have one , can at least be righteous and the mother nature will bring a GURU to them. This is an age old flawless occult TRUTH.
Gurukula, in modern age? The above said principles, though in brief, cover how the nature of student and guru should be. In modern day, if those natures and LOVE can be achieved by either, then gurukula exists in the midst of corporate schooling system. It is easy to bring the ancient lore back. But the conviction and self WILL should be strong, for both student and teacher. This will grow only when they see beyond the present day material sciences and they stay away from the profit oriented rat races. A unique bond, a close observation – for longer times, a patient endurance in struggle, etc. are needed by both. I hope, it is possible, but at least, by clinging on to non-material gurus (The ancient scriptures of the world) one can at least wait for true GURU to appear to them one day, or dive this moment into imbibing the aforementioned principles and develop a new community, in the footsteps of the past, for future generations.
This article was a request from one of my friends. Hope I addressed her query and gave some new light to her ideas. If not, or if so, I wish her the GOD’s grace to be bestowed upon her and her path of seeking TRUTH. And also, to YOU – the reader!