Essentially all of the eastern religions recognize the significance of a guru-disciple type of relationship for spiritual awakening. Even in Christianity we see Jesus had a guru relationship with his disciples referred to as apostles. Jesus stated “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” It is believed that he taught a moral code to the masses but only shared his highest teachings with the disciples who were ready to receive them. But what exactly is a guru and who qualifies to serve as one?
There is quite a bit of debate about what the word “guru” actually means. In common terms, it typically refers to one who is a teacher or master. Others suggest that the word refers to one who is a “dispeller of darkness.” Darkness can mean ignorance or delusion suggesting that those who aren’t awakened live almost in a sleep-like state. Yet another school of thought states that a guru is one who is “heavy in knowledge or wisdom.”
However, there are more traditionalists of the swami or yogi path that believe there is much more intrinsically involved in being a guru. There are several terms to denote the qualities of a guru but essentially a guru is one who has overcome maya. Maya is the “illusion of reality.” For the vast majority of the population, reality is represented by what we can perceive with the senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
Yet, in spirituality teachings these are the exact things which represent matter and all matter represents “multiplicity” and hence delusion. The yogis believe that there is One intrinsic Spirit that permeates all of creation. This “spirit” is the only true Reality because it has no beginning or end and all of creation is “born” from this essence. Likewise, all things ultimately “return” to this spirit – I am the Alpha and the Omega. You must also understand that all matter has varying degrees of “consciousness” and not just “living entities” that we can recognize as being “alive.” Thus, “spiritual awakening” means a consciousness that has transcended its identification with a body of matter and “realizes” the hidden spirit of consciousness as simply One consciousness “living” through all forms.
This Spirit, commonly referred to as God, is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent thus “It” is aware of the state of all its creation(s). This spirit “experiences” itself through infinite forms under the spell of “separation” i.e. – the delusion of not being One. We, as conscious beings, have “souls” which are like “God’s eyes” into the universe. Some argue the soul isn’t real but this is like arguing if God is real. These are matters that are beyond the grasp of the intellect or mind. God experiences creation, in varying degrees based upon the entity’s level of awareness as “life.” This process of becoming aware of the ultimate truth is known as Self-Realization.
Because Spirit understands just how “captive” Maya can be under the spell of the ego (sense of separation), It always keeps “awakened souls” manifest on the physical plane to help truth-seekers to overcome the ignorance of delusion. These awakened souls are the “gurus.”
Hence a guru may be referred to as Moksha – one who has attained emancipation, liberation or release from delusion. A guru may also be referred to as Kaivalyam – one who is isolated, detached or in solitude meaning their consciousness is one with the Singularity and has overcome the karmic cycle of rebirths. The state of a guru may also be referred to as Nirvakalpa Samadhi which is one who remains in an awakened blissful state of Reality without difference to being in physical form in the midst of activities.
So back to the question of how does one who has not yet “overcome” their ego, attachments and desires recognize someone who has? Many have suggested that you can recognize a guru by not just their words but their actions. Many intelligent people may be book-learned and can quote scripture but their actions may suggest attachment, selfishness and so forth. A true guru is free from the limitations and weaknesses of material attachments. However, it may be difficult for a student to recognize a guru because a guru doesn’t necessarily have to take a vow of poverty or live as a wanderer.
It is said that a true guru is free from emotions such as anger, sadness etc. It is because they know all of creation is transient and not permanent. A true guru doesn’t long for passing things when he or she is one with the Source of all things. Yet again a person in delusion may witness behaviors from a guru that implies anger or sadness. Even Jesus turned over tables in the marketplace to stress a point to the people. Jesus on the cross cried out “why hast thou forsaken me?” Yes, Maya can be very compelling. Some gurus may have followers while other don’t. Some gurus may live in seclusion while others operate in the world like every other person. Some gurus may be witnessed as the performer of miracles or exhibit siddhas (spiritual powers) while others may never seem to do anything extraordinary or supernatural.
Some have suggested that a true guru may barely sleep, blink their eyes, breathe or even at times not cast a shadow. At the end of the day, I believe it is a waste of time for individuals to debate about what a true guru looks or acts like? How can someone recognize something that is beyond their recognition? It has been said that a true guru will not reveal him or her self except to those who are ready to receive their help. A true guru may appear to do something “mean” to you but it may be because they are trying to shake you out of your pride. In other words because God knows the “status” of all people then He alone knows when someone is ready to benefit from a guru-disciple relationship. Ultimately, it is God that is guru to all. He/She/It can embody any form It likes whether that be as a person, animal or I guess even a leprechaun.
Your guru may be right under your nose and you never know it. Paramahansa Yogananda says he saw his guru’s face (Sri Yukteswar) many times in dreams before he ever actually met him. Your guru could be the security guard at your job. Your guru could be a relatively distant family member or friend. Your guru may be the homeless person on the street that you just ignored. Your guru could be a spouse as in the case of Kashimoni, the wife of Lahiri Mahasaya. You will not find your guru with your “eyes” but with your heart. Only when you have that burning desire for God are you ready to find your guru or rather your guru will find you. It is a combination of the two.
I suggest you establish a sadhana – devoted religious practice, which may consist of yoga, prayer and service. God helps all of us on our spiritual journey through chance encounters, family members, friends and acquaintances who either knowingly or unknowingly have an impact on us that steers us towards Truth. Yes, I’m sure there are universal commonalities among all truly awakened gurus but what is more important is your expanding love for ALL and the effort to see God in all people… even the “ignorant.” “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.” It is your awakening heart that will magnetically draw your guru to you. Be prepared for that “dispeller of darkness” to light your way to our Eternal Truth… I am you… you are me… we are one… I Am