23.4: DEVOTION TO THE GURU  - 1.

The most well-known Sanskrit verse on the concept of Guru is:

gurur-brahmA gurur-vishNuH gurur-devo maheSvaraH;
gurus-sAkshAt param brahma tasmai SrI gurave namaH.

This is itself a most profound statement. It says that the Guru is the Creator BrahmA, the Protector VishNuand the Destroyer Siva. More, he is the Transcendental Absolute (= param brahma) itself. To that Guru we prostrate. Thus, the Guru is not just one of the Trinity, not even just all three of them. He is something beyond. Each one of them has just a specified function in the milieu of the Hindu mythology, Vedanta as well as orthodoxy. Any time you pray to one of them about your problems - they seem to help you only to a certain extent. Beyond that they transfer the blame on your past and pass the buck to your prArabdha or Fate and they always get away with it in all the anecdotes of the purANas. Each one of them says that there is a Supreme (Impersonal?) Absolute beyond them and it is He (or SHE or IT ?) that prescribes what should be and what should not be; they only carry out the Supreme Will! The fact that the Guru is equated to this param brahma places him beyond the Trinity.

The Absolute is actually something which transcends the three strands ( = guNas) of Prakriti, namely satva, rajas and tamas. The absolute is therefore guNAtIta,that is, that which transcends the three guNas. The Absolute is also rUpa-varjita, that is, devoid of form. It is such an absolute that has come as Gu-ru in flesh and blood -- Gu for guNAtIta and Ru for rUpa-varjita. This profound idea is what is implied by the following verse which is only one of the hundreds that dwell on the Guru concept.

gukAraSca guNAtIto rukAro rUpa-varjitaH;
gunAtItam arUpamca yat-tatvam sa guru-smRtaH.

meaning, the syllable Gu stands for gunAtIta and the syllable Ru stands for rUpa-varjitaH. The principle therefore that combines the transcedence beyond the guNas and the absence of form is what is known as Guru.

Guru is also known as AchArya and also as deSika. These have connotations of teacher, leader, role-model, preceptor, beacon-light. As AchArya he shows us the way to act not only by precept but by his own life and action. As deSika he prescribes the directions we should take to grow up in spirituality. The ideal Guru is all three - Guru, AchArya and deSika - put into one. One's father or mother cannot play this role effectively because they are bound to be inhibited by their own attachment. The intelligence which has been clouded by beginningless ageless ignorance can be sparked off only by the Guru. This is why all scriptures are very emphatic that one should seek out a Guru; otherwise one runs the risk of drawing conclusions about the Ultimate Truth which is beyond the capabilities of the intellect . 


yenedam sarvam vijAnAti tam kena vijAnIyAt -


is a classical refrain from Chandogya-Upanishad. The one by which everything is cognized cannot itself be cognized.

The Transcendental Absolute has to be intuitively experienced and this experience has to be sparked by Guru's precept. 'You are the very Consciousness which makes you conscious of experiences' is a statement which only a Guru who is in that state of Consciousness can make. He himself confirms that He was able to get to that state because of his own Guru. Evam paramparA prAptam -- meaning, this is obtained by a legacy of generations galore - is the Lord's own statement in the Gita (Ch.IV).

Scriptures declare the analogy of the dream state to our real waking state. Just as all dream-experience is only a passing show from the point of view of one's waking state, so also the waking state itself, according to the scriptures, is a passing show from the absolute standpoint. But this declaration does not carry conviction with us because most of us have never had the experience of that absolute standpoint. On the other hand we do understand that the dream-state is not absolutely real because we do have the experience of the waking state of awareness. Nobody is able to tell us -- or has to tell us -- from within the dream that the dream experience is unreal. The beauty of the Guru-concept and the greatness of the Guru stem from the fact that a Guru does exactly this for us in respect of our waking state. From the absolute standpoint this waking state itself is dream-like. He, being a jIvan-mukta (liberated, even while living), knows this as a fact of experience. He is not only a jIvan-mukta who is in that absolute state of awareness all the time but he can also descend to our level of the ordinary mundane worldly waking state.

He therefore prods us, with all the powers that he has, to wake up from this dream-world of ours, which we think is real. It is as if he is appearing in our dream and telling us that we are dreaming! In other words he is able to wake us up from our dream-world, himself entering our dream-world. This is one of the major reasons why without exception, every great religious and spiritual leader from India extols the importance of the Guru to the skies. Says Kabir, one of the greatest saints India has ever produced: 'If body is a venomous creeper, guru is a tank full of nectar. Should you give for guru your head, still the price is far less paid' ----

yaH tan vish ki belrI, guru amRt kI khAn
sIs diye jo guru mile, to bhI sastA jAn //

Says Madhura-kavi-AlvAr, whose contribution to the 4000 Vaishnava hymns was just a piece of 11 four-lined stanzas on his AchArya, NammAlvAr "The name of the Great One, my AchArya, here uttered, brings nectar to my tongue and is far sweeter than the name of the Lord who willed that He should be bound with a small knotted rope!"----

kaNNinuN ciRuttAmbinAl kattu uNNap-
paNNiya perumAyan en appanil,
naNNit-tenkurugUr enRakkAl
aNNikkum amudu URum en nAvukke //

Who is such an ideal guru? What are his characteristics? How do you recognize him? There are scriptures galore answering these questions. One such for instance is in the Sarva Vedanta Siddhanta Samgraha by Adi Sankara. This work has 1000 verses or so and it takes us step by step up the ladder of spiritual knowledge. Quarter way through this ascent the AchArya defines in two verses the Guru concept:

Srotriyo brahma-nishTo yah praZAntaH sama-darSanaH /
nirmamo nirahamkAro nirdvandvo nishparigrahaH //
anapekshaH Sucir-dakshaH karuNAmRta-sAgaraH /
evam lakshaNa-sampannaH sa gurur-brahma-vit-tamaH //

meaning, He must be an adept in all the vedas. He must be a realised Soul who is always rooted in absolute brahman. Calm and serene, equanimous to the core, free from Ego, and from the evil of 'mine' and 'thine' he is devoid of all delusions of duality like happiness and misery, pleasure and pain, like and dislike, honour and dishonour, cold and heat, friend and foe and even cause and effect. He has no desire for possessions, he has no wants, is always pure in heart and mind and is at the top of his efficiency. He is an ocean ofcompassion and grace.

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy