The Guru is a unique symbol and understanding of Indian spirituality. In no other culture is a seemingly-ordinary human being held with such reverence and devotion.
The Guru is one who leads the student from darkness to light. Such is the literal meaning of the world. But what kind of light? It is not a physical or mental or emotional or pranic learning that the Teacher imparts but a spiritual transformation that yet encompasses all these in one sweep and curve.
The Guru is the representative of the Divine on earth, nay, he or she is exalted as the Divine itself manifesting in form and name, as the vyakta roopa of the ineffable and eternal.
In a famous doha, Kabir says that if given a choice between God and the Guru, he would bow before the Guru first for without the Guru he can never find God. There is a poetic truth in this verse but one might add that the Guru is God itself come here to guide and teach, to mentor and assist in one’s inner journey and explorations.
And yet, there is no Guru but the Divine seated within. That is the final Guru, the true one, who once discovered is a sempiternal assurance of one’s spiritual destiny and fulfilment. It is in one’s heart that the true Teacher resides, the outer name and form of the Guru only the impetus and the assistance one needs to realize that the Divine is always within oneself, as oneself, in an evolution one calls yoga.
Even so, the Guru in human form is seen as the reflection of one’s own higher self, as a mirror in the sky of one’s best and the true potential latent in each of us. It is the Guru that sustains us through all difficulties, who guides us and leads us through darkness and establishes in us the living certainty that one is in essence always pure, sacred, untouched and unharmed.
The Guru imparts insights and understanding not just with verbal instructions but by his or her presence. Verily, sitting at the auspicious feet of the Master, one is enlightened without effort, if one learns how to just sit and imbibe spontaneously and with immediacy. Such is the import of the Sanskrit word ‘Upanishad’, one of the highest expressions of Vedanta in Indian spirituality.
It is also true that the age of Guruvada might be over in modern times at least in the traditional sense. The ritualistic bending of one’s knee or bowing to the man in ochre is passé. Now the mind does not surrender so easily and needs more refined and nuanced understandings. Rare is the Guru who gives absolute freedom to the disciple and student to discover his or her own self, yet pours his quiet love and benediction upon them without expecting any return.
There have been Gurus who have not only influenced a collection of disciples or a population but an age. Such Gurus capture the essence and the spirit of the times in their being and message. These are the jagat Gurus, the Teachers of teachers, who come at every significant cycle of human evolution and guide it with their vast and subtle influence.
As one grows in yoga, love and adoration for the Guru grows spontaneously. This love is the secret for one’s future growth, the seed of one’s own divinity and the mentor and guide for all endeavors to come.
To be one’s own light, atma deepo bhava, is an ancient dictum given us by the wisest of teachers; yet, this inner light is the same as the light of the being we call the Guru. The Guru can pour his or her energy into the disciple if necessary in a process called Shakti Paata; yet, the greatest imparting of strength and intensity to the disciple is not in terms of power but in terms of Truth and Consciousness and Bliss.
This is the secret of the Guru: the Divine within and without, the formless taking a human form, the one who is our own self and nature calling us back to ourselves. To the Teacher the highest honor and the highest station with the clear awareness that there is no Self other than the Guru; nor is there a Guru other than the Self.