All are brahman declares sanātana dharma and the true purpose of human life is to overcome the māyā or illusion created by the mind, which projects the myth of duality that one is different from brahman by giving a false identity (ahaṁkāra) through the acquired thoughts (manas), memories (citta), and flawed analysis (buddhi). This realisation that one is brahman is mokṣa – destruction of moha or false attachment, also called mukti or freedom from ignorance. To achieve this, a guru – a realised Master- is imperative as he experiences his truth as brahman, and can thus help the lost seeker also discover his true identity, like the big lion that guided the ignorant cub lost in the flock of sheep to its real identity of being a lion, and thus liberated it from the illusion of calling itself a sheep. That’s what we discussed in the last article.

But how does one find a guru? Who is a real guru? What are his qualities? And how does he help one realise brahman? These are the questions that we would try and answer in this article.

As mentioned some time ago, the same brahman descends as an avatār amongst people with the main purpose of establishing dharma – which is to help one execute one’s true duty of behaving in accordance with one’s Divine nature. 

Many who come across such an avatār are inspired and strive to achieve the greater heights of the supreme state of brahman, cutting asunder the bondage of false identification that ties them down to the māyā of the world. These great ones who aspire, strive and ultimately achieve the truth of their true nature as brahman are ascended Masters or gurus, who out of their immense compassion for the others teach them about this path of freedom. guru is a combination of gu and ru’, where gu stands for darkness and ru stands for its dispelling. In short, guru means the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance. Just like how we fail to identify ourselves in the mirror if it is dark, likewise we fail to identify our true nature due to ignorance. Like switching on the light and making things visible as they are, a guru enlightens the seeker through his teachings and helps remove the darkness of ignorance. In the presence of such an enlightened master, the disciple is enabled to identity oneself as brahman

brahman descends as an avatār amongst people with the main purpose of establishing dharma – which is to help one execute one’s true duty of behaving in accordance with one’s Divine nature. 

However, if it was so simple, then why does everyone not have a guru to guide them? The truth is that one must develop the deservedness of having a guru in one’s life. What does that mean? The muṇḍakopaniṣad says that after one tries and carefully analyses everything in the world, and comes to the conclusion that one is unable to attain true happiness out of the actions undertaken, one becomes detached and seeks relief by approaching a guru who is a ‘learned and enlightened one.’ Such a guru then trains and teaches a surrendered and willing seeker. So the first reason why one even seeks a guru is when one is disillusioned by the temporariness of the world which does not give true and lasting happiness. The sorrows in the world, the failures and disappointments are thus stepping stones to a spiritual life. This understanding may happen within this very birth or after several births of accumulated yearning to know the truth.

An earnest seeker of truth finds a Master in due course, the moment one is ready to let go of the world and seek guidance of a Master. This Master does not accept the disciple without testing him and demands sincere, dedicated efforts and complete surrender to attain the truth, like in praśnopaniṣad where guru Pippalada, asks the six seekers to practise tapas – austerities to purge oneself of any attachments to the world and develop a burning desire for the truth, śraddhā – sincere faith in the words of the scriptures and the guru, and brahmacarya – absolute abstinence from seeking pleasures of the body and the mind, thereby completely engaging in spiritual pursuits. It’s only when guru Pippalada is satisfied with the sādhanā or prescribed practices of the disciples that he called them after a year, and clarified their doubts.

So while the disciple is to undertake tapas, possess śraddhā and practise brahmacarya, a true guru is also known by certain qualities, eight of them to be precise, as described by the great scholar Saint Sri Adishankaracharya of 8th century CE in his work, vivekacūḍāmaṇi (verse 33): 

Eight qualities of a guru

  1. श्रोत्रियः śrotriyaḥ - learned
  2. अवृजिनः avṛjinaḥ - sinless
  3. अकामहतः akāmahataḥ - desireless
  4. ब्रह्मवित्तमः brahmavittamaḥ - knower of brahman
  5. ब्रह्मण्युपरतः brahmaṇyuparataḥ - withdrawn into and abiding in brahman
  6. शान्तः निरिन्धन इवानलः śāntaḥ nirindhana ivānalaḥ - calm like the fire that has consumed all its fuel (unperturbed by the activities)
  7. अहेतुकदयासिन्धुः ahetukadayāsindhuḥ - ocean of mercy without any reason
  8. बन्धुरानमतां सताम् bandhurānamatāṁ satām - true friend of the noble one who surrender to him

Just to tell you how compassionate a true guru is even when the disciple wavers and wanders, here is the story of a great realised guru Ribhu and the disciple Nidagha. Though the great Master Ribhu, upon the request of the father of Nidagha, teaches the disciple the knowledge and path of brahman, the wayward disciple drawn by the world, leaves the guru to settle down in a family life far far away. But the compassionate Master visits him in different disguises only to guide him back on the spiritual path. One such incident is an interesting one wherein after several years, the guru disguises himself as a poor old man and makes his way to the city where Nidagha lived. On his way, he notices his disciple waiting on the wayside for the procession of the king. Acting like an ignorant old rustic, the guru asks the unaware disciple as to what was going on? To which Nidagha replies that the king’s procession was passing by. The old man (guru) asks again as to who was the king? Nidagha replies that the one on the elephant was the king. Now, the guru asks as to what is an elephant. The annoyed disciple replies that the one below is the elephant and the one seated above is the king. Yet again, the old man poses another question and asks as to what is meant by below and above. Now, having lost all the patience with the foolish old man, the infuriated Nidagha climbs upon the old man’s back and tells him, “I am above and you are below.” The patient old guru then asks the final question as to who is ‘I’ and who is ‘you’. This makes the disciple realise that the old man was his own guru who had come in disguise to remind him of the great truth that all are one in divinity and there are no differences of ‘I’ and ‘you’. Thus, the disciple is guided back on the spiritual path by the guru.

This is the story of every guru who is an ocean of compassion without any reason and selflessly works for the greater good of the disciple in every way. Finding such a guru is the greatest of fortune. Therefore, in our tradition, guru is equalled to God and at times even placed above Gods.

Well, this is the story of every guru who is an ocean of compassion without any reason and selflessly works for the greater good of the disciple in every way. Finding such a guru is the greatest of fortune. Therefore, in our tradition, guru is equalled to God and at times even placed above Gods –

gururbrahmā gururviṣṇuḥ gururdevo maheśvaraḥ।
guruḥ sākṣāt parabrahma tasmai śrīgurave namaḥ॥

guru is the embodiment of the supreme brahman, thus salutations to such a guru.

What are the lessons that a seeker learns at the feet of a guru? How is this human birth the most scared and best suited to attain self realisation, thus freeing oneself once for all from the vicious cycle of birth and death?

Let’s learn about this in the next article.

guru is equalled to God and at times even placed above Gods

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुः गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः ।
गुरुः साक्षात् परब्रह्म तस्मै श्री गुरवे नमः ॥

gururbrahmā gururviṣṇuḥ gururdevo maheśvaraḥ।
guruḥ sākṣāt parabrahma tasmai śrīgurave namaḥ॥

guru is the embodiment of the supreme brahman, thus salutations to such a guru.

guru stotram

tapas

austerities to purge oneself of any attachments to the world and develop a burning desire for the truth

śraddhā

sincere faith in the words of the scriptures and the guru

brahmacarya

absolute abstinence from seeking pleasures of the body and the mind, thereby completely engaging in spiritual pursuits