Spiritual Master: Understanding the Word 'guru'
Right at the start, I would like to address something I've observed over the years within others especially in the USA, and even within myself before meeting my satguru. For the western world, the word guru or spiritual Master has a tendency to create immediate resistance in the mind, especially when our environment imposes hyper-individualism as a means for ‘success’. But in many other traditions around the world, building a relationship with the guru is a normal aspect of human development. With that, I invite you for just a moment, to go beyond your own preconceived ideas and see what might be illuminated, like it was for me.
Firstly, what does the word guru mean? Though the Sanskrit word itself has varying angles of interpretation and can’t be perfectly articulated in the English language, we will work with a widely accepted translation which is: one who dispels the darkness of spiritual ignorance.
With the definition of ignorance being lack of knowledge, education, and awareness, we see that one of the true guru’s roles is to point towards that spiritual knowledge.They do so not just through lectures or interpretation of scriptures, but through their living example.
Secondly, how then, does the guru differ from an everyday mentor, guide, or expert? It’s important to emphasise that not every guru has attained enlightenment. Speaking on the premise of a true guru, they are an enlightened being that can thus provide not just everyday information as taught in standardised education. But rather, a knowledge which is related to the intangible, interconnected source of all things both material and non-material in nature, such as the soul. If you are alive, it's clear there is an inconceivable part of us that gives the body life and departs once the body dies.
‘Most of the people who live in the outside world, don’t know what they have inside of themselves. Sometimes they even forget that they are living beings. They roam the world like robots, forgetting that they have an atma, a soul inside of them. When you talk to them, they say, “Ah, when we die, we die, it’s finished!” They are not interested in knowing more about life.’ - Excerpt from Paramahamsa Vishwananda's commentary of the Bhagavad Gita
As a human race we have developed a sense of trust in science and use it as a reference to back up claims. Modern science is divided into three parts: formal (i.e. logic and mathematics), natural (i.e. biological and cosmological), and social (human behaviour). However science is still only beginning to discover what has already been discovered thousands of years ago in ancient times found in spiritual scriptures such as the Vedas. There were times when ‘science’ and ‘spirituality’ were not at odds with one another but complemented each other. As more shocking research emerges in the domain of metaphysics and seemingly miraculous events, it seems the three parts to modern science are missing a fourth branch, spiritual science. A true guru is an ‘expert’ and well established in the space of this said spiritual science. Our intellect alone cannot grasp the fullness of existence simply by its own effort. One needs to receive knowledge from a realised being who is established in the realm of reality as it is.
‘One should approach a spiritual Master with submission, extensive enquiry and service. Such realised souls can instruct you, for they have seen the Truth.’
– Bhagavad Gita, 4.34
Why Do You Need A Spiritual Master?
Secular education does not encourage deep respect and love for the teacher. The transmission of spiritual knowledge is not an intellectual process. And here, we enter the domain of mystery which is unavoidable no matter what one believes. Though the guru imparts knowledge, it is not handed over mechanically like information fed to you in school, it's not found in a google search, and can’t even be fully understood by reading spiritual scripture itself. This true knowledge is revealed in the heart of the seeker by the guru’s grace, when one develops humility and a sincere willingness to transform. This is not about a ‘get enlightened quick’ process. This knowledge is a result of the direct experience in a long term relationship with the guru. Deep down, the truth we all long for can be found in qualities such as unconditional love, humility, generosity, compassion…all qualities the true guru possesses and which nature itself points to. What can seem so mysterious can also be practically exemplified in nature itself. Every human being from all walks of life on Earth has this potential inside of them, and as said before, will radically transform your life. This is the journey the guru walks with us.
‘When a deep longing to achieve something greater than just this mundane life awakens inside the heart, and when one is fully ready with humility, the Master will give the Brahma Jyaan, the knowledge of the Self, to the disciple and guide him.’
- Excerpt from Paramahamsa Vishwananda's commentary of the Bhagavad Gita
You do not have to run away to a cave or an ashram to become a yogi. Learning to live spiritually and follow the guidance of a guru, no matter where you are, is a key part of spiritual advancement and transformation. Learn how with our free guide on living spiritually in the material world.