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What is 'Guru'?

There are many misconceptions about what Guru means and the role Guru can play in our lives. For example, the myth that the Guru is just a man in a seat spreading wisdom, or that one only needs to follow their inner Guru.

When understood correctly, Guru is a main pillar of the spiritual journey alongside Sangha (Spiritual Community) and Sadhana (Spiritual Practice). A proper understanding of Guru is essential to begin to see its Grace in all things and to prevent us from confusion and delusion.

What is Guru?

In Shaivism, Guru is defined as a culmination of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva - the three Gods. These Gods can be understood as divine beings in the sky looking down on us or we can also understand them as personifications of the three essential qualities that Kashmir Shaivism, Tantra, and Hinduism see as making up the entire Universe.

  • Brahma: The Creator

  • Vishnu: The Preserver

  • Shiva: The Destroyer

As a combination of the three, Guru can be understood as The Universal, a sum of all aspects of the Divine (also known as Sadguru, or the great Guru).

When we break down the etymology of "Guru"...

  • "Gu" meaning "darkness"

  • "Ru" meaning "remover"

... we can also understand the Guru as a remover of darkness. This does not have to be a living being with a big white beard that in the West we are accustomed to envisioning but can really be anything that brings us from darkness into light.

This being said, there are many traditions coming out of India and therefore many definitions and interpretations of Guru.

Seeing the Guru in All Things

In Hinduism and Tantra, this term "Sadguru" describing Guru as the culmination of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva points to the understanding that the Guru can be found in all experiences of life, not just the "pleasant" ones. Shiva himself is part of the Guru Trilogy and represents death, destruction, and the ending of things.

Perhaps there has been a particularly life-altering experience for you which looking back on, you may have felt it was "terrible" but since then, you've had a new perspective on life. You've been able to see more clearly, be more truthful. This is stepping into a higher truth which is the blessing of Guru. This potential exists in all situations with our openness to accept and to learn.

The Beginner's Mistake

A common mistake when getting into relationship with Guru is believing that it is another person who is giving wisdom. In actuality, the Guru is not the wise man in the seat. As we have said, it is this universal principle which may simply be channeling through this other being.

You receive the gifts of the Guru not because of another person, but because of your own humility to see the truth; your openness to receive. All wisdom exists within you and it is through this humble surrender that you are able to see it.

Although true wisdom lies within, we must also be careful when it comes to the "Inner Guru". Some spiritual practitioners will say they do not need to follow a teacher or teachings, that they only need to listen to the Inner Guru. This is something to be cautious about as more often than not, this is a case of not truly being in touch with the deeper wisdom of one's being but confusing one's own ego for the Inner Guru.

In order to distinguish truth from ego, it is important to continuously be cultivating humility - to be able to accept another as a teacher (a person, an experience, etc.). It is the arrogant one who faces challenges and claims to be unaffected. It is the humble one who says "yes, I was burned, but I learned." From this acceptance, we move from darkness towards light and a great deal of true wisdom begins to stem from the heart. This is the true Inner Guru.

More on the Guru

  • Do I need a Guru?

  • How do I find a Guru?

  • Are we Gurus?

  • What are the fallacies of the Guru?

  • What are the importances of the Guru?

  • How does one become a Guru?

A discussion on the Guru is not complete without answering these questions, helping to guide you into healthy relationship with Guru, your true inner wisdom, and the Universe. We answer all these questions and more in our talk on the Guru which can be found in our online membership SAṄGHA by clicking the link below.


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