The word guru is so misused that I feel hurt sometimes. It is such a noble word, such a wonderful word. After your mother has given birth to you, and your parents have raised you, then the role of the guru begins, and he helps you fulfill the purpose of your life. Even if I’m a very bad man and somebody calls me guru, I have to become the best for the sake of the person who expects it of me. A guru is different from a teacher. Guru is a compound of two words, gu and ru. Gu means “darkness”; ru means “light”: that which dispels the darkness of ignorance is called guru. In the West the word guru is often misused. In India this word is used with reverence and is always associated with holiness and the highest wisdom. It is a very sacred word. It is seldom used by itself, but always with its suffix, deva. Deva means “bright being.” An enlightened master or guru is called gurudeva.

Gu means “darkness”; ru means “light.” That which dispels the darkness of ignorance is called guru.

There is a vast difference between an ordinary teacher and a spiritual master. All followers of a guru, whatever their age, even if they are eighty years old, are like children to him. He will feed them, give them shelter, and then teach them, without expecting anything in return. I asked my master, “Why does he do this?”

He said, “He has no other desires but teaching those aspirants who are prepared. If he doesn’t do this, what shall he do?”

When a student goes to a guru he takes a bundle of dry sticks. With reverence and love he bows and says, “Here, I offer this.” That indicates that he is surrendering himself with all his mind, action, and speech with a single desire to attain the highest wisdom. The guru burns those sticks and says, “Now I will guide you and protect you in the future.” Then he initiates the student on various levels and gives him the disciplines to practice. It is such a pure relationship that I don’t think any other relationship is even comparable. Everything the guru has, even his body, mind, and soul, belongs to his student. But if he has any odd habits at all, they belong only to himself.

The guru says, “Now I will guide you and protect you in the future.”

The guru imparts a word and says, “This will be an eternal friend to you. Remember this word. It will help you.” That is called mantra initiation. Then he explains how to use the mantra. He removes obstacles. Since the student has desires and many problems, he does not know how to make decisions properly. So the guru will teach him how to decide and how to remain peaceful and tranquil. He will say, “Sometimes you have noble thoughts, but you do not bring them into action. Come on, make your mind one-pointed. You are powerful, and my blessings are with you.”

You try your best to do something for him, but you cannot, because he doesn’t need anything. Such a compassionate one spontaneously attracts your attention, for you are bewildered. You wonder, “Why is he doing so much for me? What does he want from me?” He wants nothing, for what he is doing is his duty, the purpose of his life. If he guides you, he is not obliging you, he is doing his work. He cannot live without doing his duty.

Such people are called gurus. They guide humanity. As the sun shines and lives far above, the guru gives his spiritual love and remains unattached. Guru is not a physical being. Those who think of the guru as a body or as a man do not understand this pious word. If a guru comes to think that his power is his own, then he is a guide no more. The guru is tradition; he is a stream of knowledge. That stream of knowledge goes through many channels. Christ also said this when he healed people and they called him Lord. He said, “This is because of my Father; I am only a channel.”

The guru is tradition; he is a stream of knowledge.

No human being can ever become a guru. But when a human being allows himself to be used as a channel for receiving and transmitting by the Power of Powers, then it happens. And for that, a human being should learn to be selfless. Usually love is mingled with selfishness. I need something, so I say, “I love you.” You need something, so you love me. This is what we call love in the world. But when you do actions selflessly in a spontaneous way, then that is really love. You don’t expect any reward. Genuine gurus cannot live without selflessness, for selfless love is the very basis of their enlightenment. They radiate life and light from the unknown corners of the world. The world does not know them, and they do not want recognition.

Don’t ever believe anyone who comes to you and demands, “Worship me.” Even Christ and Buddha did not ask that. Never forget that guru is not the goal. Guru is like a boat for crossing the river. It is very important to have a good boat, and it is very dangerous to have a boat that is leaking. But after you have crossed the river you don’t need to hang onto your boat, and you certainly don’t worship the boat.

Many fanatics think they should worship a guru. A guru should receive your love and respect—that is different from worship. If my guru and the Lord both come together, I will go to my guru first and say, “Thank you very much. You have introduced me to the Lord.” I will not go to the Lord and say, “Thank you very much, Lord. You have given me my guru.”

Further Reading

Living with the Himalayan Masters

by Swami Rama

“I will tell you how I grew up and how I was trained, about the great sages with whom I lived and what they taught me, not through lectures and books but through experiences.” —Swami Rama

Source: Living With the Himalayan Masters (Swami Rama)
More in this Series

Stories of the Sages