What Is Guru?

Gurus of the Self-Realization Fellowship

Gurus of the Self-Realization Fellowship

Guru Purnima is the day to express gratitude to anyone or anything or any power that has removed darkness from your life. Guru is "remover of darkness". 

We are all inherently students of the Divine process. From the very beginning we ask "What is This?".  We are born to learn and grow.  The Divine Creation that is the World is a Teacher.  It's purpose is to evolve Consciousness from inert Matter.  The World is Jagatguru, World Teacher.

Life is the exploration in search of the puzzle pieces that comprise the whole, clear picture. The Guru is anyone or anything that helps us along on the treasure hunt and shows us how to put the fragmented pieces of true vision together. 

Typically we think of this Guru as a robed man with flowing white hair and long beard and a red dot in between the brows bearing a Sanskrit title and a name ending in "ananda" sitting in lotus position. There are many who may fit that description who faithfully serve the Divine by helping others to pierce the obscurations of incarnation. And then there are many Gurus who do not fit that description at all and there are even those who do not have human form.

Most of us seek the Guru in the world outside.  We may have a pre-existing, idealized view of the form of the messenger and the content of the message and then we proceed to search for a teacher that matches our notion.  Or we may have no idea what sort of teacher we need and we may find that we accept the definitions that are provided by external sources.

We may start from a sense of spiritual lacking and seek a source outside of ourselves to fill the perceived void.  This parallels the same pattern that is repeated in all aspects of life.  We perceive lack and insufficiency and we seek outside of ourselves for fulfillment and completion.

The tendency towards external orientation, the grasping and identification with the outer manifestation of things and the sense of inner insufficiency are conditions that go to the heart of spiritual unfoldment.  To the extent that we apply these tendencies to Guru, we risk replicating in the context of the Guru-Disciple relationship the very conditions that need to be transformed.

All beings and all phenomena are expressions of Divine Source.  Material reality is projected out of the field of Divine Light.  Humans are a species that is capable of fully realizing the truth of their Divinity.  This is often referred to as "Self-Realization" or "God Realization".  The Guru is assumed to have either evolved far along the path of realization or to have perfected it.  He or she then helps others do the same.

Classically, it is thought that dedication and obeisance of the student to the external human-formed Guru is identical to the relationship between the student and the Divine. This can be the case, but only when both the student and the Guru accept and understand fully that their relationship is an energetic metaphor that facilitates connectivity to the Divine Source. Absent this clear understanding, all sorts of toxic distortions are easily and inevitably introduced into the relationship. This is particularly true in the West where there is a total absence of the background traditions to support the proper functioning of the Guru-disciple relationship and the overwhelming presence of cultural contaminants that easily fragment and distort the Divine Light.

External orientation towards an outer Guru is only helpful if the primary relationship is between the student and the Divine.  Everything the Guru does should be to foster that relationship.  The function of the Guru is to teach the student to recognize, listen to and act upon the voice of the inner teacher.  

Pranam (bowing down) to the Guru

Pranam (bowing down) to the Guru

In Yoga the inner teacher is referred to as Ishvara.  This is the guiding principle and light of inner wisdom that emanates from the higher Self.  All humans are endowed with this faculty of direct Divine connectivity.  It's what separates us from the Animal realm.  In the West we tend to perceive this as "conscience".

Ishvara is routinely suppressed and ignored in favor of the impulses of the lower Animal nature.  Some are born with a strong connectivity to the inner Guru and some of those easily listen and apply its Divine wisdom.  Others need the help of an external Guru who lives in alignment with Ishvara to learn to recognize, accept and act in accordance with the inner teacher.

The Guru is already inside of you.  The wisdom and understanding of the Universe is at your disposal as soon as you are ready to access it.  The true outer Guru will help you to do this.

Surrender is a key aspect of the Guru-Disciple relationship.  In spiritual practice, little can be accomplished if the student is unwilling to surrender will and identity to the Divine.  This can be forwarded greatly through surrender to a Guru, whether embodied in human form or otherwise.  

The practice of surrender and obeisance to the outer Guru can be highly fruitful for the aspirant to spiritual life.  Many of us have a great deal of difficulty surrendering to the Divine.  The Divinity may seem like a vague principle or too intangible.  Our egoic pride may be too fierce.  Surrender to a realized Guru can be a powerful practice.  Pranam is to bow to the feet of the Guru.  Accepting the Guru's teachings and actively and avidly practicing them without attachment to the result can also be highly liberating and transformative.  The ego is deeply rooted and many of us need a tangible teacher to help us shed it so we can then access the light of the Divine and hear the voice of the inner teacher.

Surrender to falsehood is a dangerous pitfall, so much harm can be done if the objectified external Guru is not chosen wisely.  A student with little or no internal spiritual guidance and a desperation for answers is susceptible to manipulation.  Establish some connectivity with the inner teacher (Shiva Ishwara) before attempting to surrender to a human form.

We are each of us projections of Divine Grace Light in the process of coming to know ourselves fully as such.  Stated another way, The Divine is all of us coming to know itself as each of us.  Or further, The Divine experiences itself and knows its creation through each and all of us.  Only that which removes the veils of illusion that separate us from this basic, essential Truth is Guru.

Words from human lips to human ears that reveal the Divine Grace Light are Guru.

The perfect rose in your garden is Guru. The scent of that rose is Guru. The bees collecting pollen from the rose are Guru. The sky is Guru. The light in a baby's eyes is Guru. The nuzzling cuddle of a pet is Guru.

A devastating loss is Guru.  Death is Guru.  Illness is Guru.  Struggle is Guru.  Suffering is Guru.

The entire phenomenal Universe with all of its forces and power exists for the sole purpose of guiding and prompting Beings to learn that Existence is manifest Consciousness.  The ultimate lesson is that All is Divinity.  All is Guru.

Lord Shiva, the first Guru

Lord Shiva, the first Guru

Where is Guru to be found for you? It depends on the conditions of your youness.  Where are you on your personal spiritual path?  The tantric distinctions between Pashu (Herd), Virya (Warrior) and Divya (Divine) and the various transitional blendings between the three is very useful. The Pashu is "bound" to the world and subject entirely to the drives of the lower Animal nature.  The Virya has begun to awaken and is feeling a strong aspiration in the direction of Realization, yet still struggles with the base urges and egoic limitations.  The Divya is clearly on the path of Realization and life is recognized to be a process by which one comes to know Self and All as Divinity.  A sincere student would first seek to know where they are on this continuum of development so that they can understand clearly where they are in their spiritual process and so then know how to proceed. One of the best signs and first tasks of a real Guru is to help the student discover just this.

Many will say that it is absolutely necessary to have a Guru to progress to God Realization.  Based on my own personal experience and what I have studied and observed over many years, I would say that most spiritual aspirants need a significant degree of help along the path and that is likely going to mean they will need a Guru or at least a skilled Teacher.  Since I was likely born Divya or at the very least a highly developed Virya, I have not found the need for a lot of external support.  I am blessed with the active support and protection of Divine Mother and graced by the constant, patient guidance of Lord Shiva Ishwara.  While my early days of spiritual life were fraught with many apparent missteps, I always managed to extract powerful lessons from each episode.  In these latter years, my inner ear has become so finely attuned to the Divine Will that my life constantly bears instantaneous spiritual fruit with diminishing effort.  I will be visiting India soon, the land of the Gurus, and I remain open to meeting and accepting a Teacher if Shiva deems it appropriate.  I know I will have no trouble recognizing my Guru if and when the time comes.  Until then, I can only count myself as truly fortunate to have made my way through the struggles and pitfalls of life to arrive at the feet of the Divine Supreme.

I am a Student of the Self-Realization Fellowship and I am also studying and receiving initiation in Sri Vidya Sadhana with Guru Sri Sivapremanandaji.  I received a 200 hour Yoga teacher training certification from Rising Lotus Yoga in Sherman Oaks, California.


(Revised, expanded and updated on April 27, 2017)