Throughout the ages, the significance of a guru or spiritual guide
in a seeker’s life has been questioned and disputed. This 1s
especially true today, with the fostering of self-reliance and
independence in a rational, intellectual society. It is because of
our demands for a logical explanation and scientific approach to
all pursuits that the following questions arise:
In The Essential Teacher, these and other critical questions are
addressed by some of the greatest masters, saints. and teachers
from the past and the present, extracting indispensable keys to
the process of Self-perfection from traditional disciplines.
These are the days of both guru worship and guru damnation.
Those who follow a guru often do so blindly, like the dumb cattle
driven in a herd. They lack enthusiasm and ignore intelligent
evaluation when listening to advice or following a path.
On the other hand, there is a growing majority of blasphemers who are to be congratulated, for their calumny is rightly
directed against the false pretenders and professional priests.
Gurudom has become a very lucrative business, requiring no
investment, and promising great gain.
But, between. these two extremities of opinions, somewhere
lies the truth. The Hindu scriptures are amply clear in their
definition of a true guru: one well-versed in the scriptures and
also well-established in Truth.
To students of Vedanta the guru is the embodiment of their
goal. The guru is nothing but pure Consciousness, absolute
Bliss, and eternal Wisdom. Anyone who can elicit a continual
feeling of faith and devotion in us is our guru. If we expect a guru
to transform us to Godhood by a touch, we shall wait in vain.
Self-redemption must come ultimately from ourselves. The
external props, such as temples, idols, and gurus, are all encouragements and aids. They must be intelligently used to help build
up inner perfection. With inner purity, the student comes to be
guided more and more by the intellect. In fact, the real guru is
the pure intellect within; the purified, deeply aspiring mind is
Thus the most important thing is our own self-effort. Purify
the equipment, and the guru necessary for our next stage of
growth shall reach us. This is the eternal law. Hour by hour, the
world around us is so ordered as to give us the necessary dosage
of experiences. What is essential for the next stage of growth is
always provided for by the all-witnessing and merciful Lord.
When we come to deserve a master, he shall reach us. Stick
to spiritual practices. Be good, be kind, be sincere. Refine the
motives by building life upon the enduring values of love,
mercy, charity, and purity. Through constant remembrance of
the Lord rise in spirituality. Gurus shall from time to time reach
such determined and sincere seekers.
The Sanskrit word guru is defined as "the dispeller of ignorance,"
where gu is "ignorance" or "darkness" and ru is "the remover." A guru
is a Spiritual master who can help us to rediscover our essential nature
by teaching the true spiritual life. He thus represents the light that
The concept of the guru can be traced back to the ancient Vedic
period; in the Upanisads, the teacher is presented as being indispensable to Self-knowledge. Other religious traditions also emphasize the
need for a teacher for those who wish to advance spiritually. The names
for teachers are different: spiritual director in Christianity, tzaddikim in
Judaism, startsy in the Russian Orthodox tradition, and murshid in
Sufism. Yet all these guides performed the same task; namely, leading
the souls in their care to the place they themselves had reached.
Due to the very subtle nature of the knowledge to be transmitted—
which transcends mind and intellect—a deep personal relationship is
required in order for true unfoldment to take place. If the teacher is not
perfected, this personal relationship could be misused. This is perhaps
the reason why the word "guru" often creates a negative reaction in
society today. A true teacher never abuses the relationship, because he
is free, he has nothing to gain, and he teaches solely out of love for
Yet how can we in our present state of imperfection recognize a
true teacher? And why is a teacher necessary? It is these fundamental
questions that this issue addresses.
Part One examines "The Nature of the Guru." The questions of
who and what is a guru are dealt with in the articles by Vedantic masters
Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Sivananda, and Swami Vivekananda.
J.R. Puri concludes Part One with a number of quotes by Guru Nanak
of the Sikh tradition, who focuses on the importance of a living master
when examining the question: How can we love that which we do not
Tarthang Tulku, head Lama of the Tibetan Nyingma Institute,
begins Part Two, "Transmission of Knowledge," by pointing out the
importance of the personal teacher-student relationship, which forms
the basis of traditional teachings. Nisargadatta Maharaj, a contempo-
rary Advaitic sage, turns the responsibility of finding the right teacher
back onto ourselves by saying, "Be the right man and the right guru will —
surely find you."
In relating a dialogue with his own teacher, Swami Chinmay-
ananda explains the difficulty of trying to convey the absolute Truth in
terms of the conditioned Truth. He then tells us how we can prepare
ourselves for the subjective experience of our own true nature.
In Part Three, "Personal Anecdotes," an encounter with one of the
greatest sages in modern times, Ramana Maharshi, is told by the
Vedantic scholar T.M.P. Mahadevan. Henri Borel, who helped bring
the philosophy of Lao-Tse to the attention of early twentieth-century
Europe, writes movingly of meeting with a Tao master. Saint Francis
de Sales, a sixteenth-century saint, writes to Philothea—a name used to
signify all souls in love with God—advising her that obedience to a true
spiritual teacher will ensure a rewarding journey.
Part Four looks at "Teachers in Different Traditions." By giving
detailed explanations of silence and stillness, the teachings of Ramana
Maharshi are expounded upon by a disciple, V. Ganesan. Thomas
Merton examines the spiritual director in the monastic environment
and emphasizes the use of a natural and holistic approach to personal
reintegration. Idries Shah, the foremost exponent of Sufism in the
West, gives us an overview of the Sufi teacher and student. Baljit Kaur
Tulsi describes in a Sikh allegory the process of a seeker awakening
from his lower to his higher nature. The teacher assures the seeker that
no matter how many wrong actions taint his past, if he holds fast and true
to his ideal, he will get uplifted. And the guru concludes by showing
the seeker that the true guru, the eternal guru, is God Himself, the Self
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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