gurus and teachers

There are many designations provided to the one who instructs – teacher, lecturer, instructor, professor, and so on. Similar words in Samskritham (Sanskrit) are अध्यापक, adhyapak, शिक्षक, shikshak, उपाध्याय, upAdyaya; specifically for a spiritual teacher are धर्मोपदेशक, dharmopdeshak, बोधक, bhodhak, आचार्य, Acharya, etc., to list a few. Although the hierarchy among the above listed words is sketchy, the word गुरु, Guru is placed at the highest and is not to be taken lightly.

Currently, the term Guru is used very loosely in the modern world. Anyone who may have achieved a little something becomes recognized on the media platform is deemed a guru; like a fashion guru, or computer guru, a cooking guru. For instance, Steve Jobs was Apple’s guru, Akilah, a youtube comedian is a beauty guru and Keith Edward Elam (July 17, 1961 – April 19, 2010), stage name Guru, was an American rapper, producer, and actor. And, of course the websites:,,, and

Years ago, I remember reading a phrase ‘wastepaper-basket term’ in Speech Pathology which referred to a word that is used very loosely and very often,- that it looses its reverence and importance. Sadly, Guru has become a wastepaper-basket term. Unfortunately, because of media hype of pseudo yoga gurus, a few of the true Yoga Gurus have succumbed to ridicule as well.

This blog is a feeble attempt to restore the respect for the word ‘Guru’ and bring back the faith in the ancient tradition of Guru-Disciple relationship. The more knowledge you gain by studying about ancient gurus and their paths, the more your faith and reverence towards true Gurus will be restored. Start with Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahamsa Yogananda, or At the Eleventh Hour by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD (Swami Rama of the Himalayas). You will be inspired.


Look around and see who your teachers are. How would you describe the person who teaches you? What qualities does he or she possess? Is he or she your role model and is helping you grow? Would you emulate your teacher?

The word ‘Guru’, derived from the ancient language of Samskrithamis made up of two syllables Gu and Ru:

  • Gu comes from the root “Ga” that denotes the spiritual ignorance of most humankind +“U” Suppression – removal of darkness/ignornance.
  • Ru comes from “Ra” seed sound for fire and light (anger and insight) + “U” suppression – suppression of negative aspects that cloud pure vision.
  • The vibrational meaning of “Guru” is – one whose radiance of spiritual knowledge dispels the spiritual ignorance and amplifies spiritual experiences and spiritual knowledge.

Mundaka Upanishad (1.2.12) states that anyone seeking to study Advaita Vedānta should do so only from a Guru, who has the following qualities:

  1. Śrotriya — must be learned in the scriptures of Vedas, Upanishads, etc
  2. Brahmanişţha — must be “established in Brahman; must have realized the oneness of Brahman in everything and within himself.

A Guru must demonstrate the following

  • Clarity, perception and proper dissemination of ‘true’ knowledge
  • Regularity in spiritual practice, Sadhana
  • Freedom from desire and fruits of actions
  • Living example of humility and dispassion

For everyday purposes, a literal translation of the Guru is a Spiritual Teacher; a person with virtuous qualities who enlightens the mind of the disciple, a master from whom one receives the mantra initiation (Diksha), a mentor who inspires dedication, and a role model who exemplifies how to live a spiritual life.

Many Teachers, One Guru

You will encounter many different teachers on your spiritual journey. But there is only one Guru.

A true Guru is not an ordinary spiritual teacher, but one who has attained union with God and is therefore qualified to lead others to that goal.“The blind cannot lead the blind,” said Paramahamsa Yogananda. “Only a master, one who knows God, may rightly teach others about Him. To regain one’s divinity one must have such a master or Guru. He who faithfully follows a true Guru becomes like him, for the Guru helps to elevate the disciple to his own level of realization.”

According to the types of functions and various texts, Guru may be categorized as rishi, acharya, upadhya, kulapati or mantravetta, etc. Seven types of Gurus according to Guru Gita, another spiritual text is listed below.

Suchaka Guru Mastery over any one science or art. e.g. Mastery in Healing, etc.
Vachaka Guru Initiates one into spirituality by giving a Diksha Mantra, which transforms the life of the recipient
Bodhaka Guru Gives insructions relating to caste, creed, religion.
Nishiddha Guru Invokes God’s Secret powers for personal benefit or with evil intention.
Vihita Guru Shows Vairagya (Dispassion) in Society
Karanakhya Guru Guru who gives Sanyasa Diksha (initiates disciple into Monkhood). He is the remover of the disease of this mundane world.
Param Guru Dispeller of doubts, removes the fear of birth and death is the The Supreme Guru, i.e. who shows the path of Liberation (moksha).

 Yoga Philosophy teaches that there is no true knowledge without a Guru and outlines four levels of Guru.

  • Shiksha Guruteaches basics, helps establish routines and practices, and helps to gather information through spiritual study. May be at the same spiritual level as you or I, but may know things that we haven’t found out yet and inspires us to practice.
  • Diksha GuruOne who has mastered a spiritual practice, whose intellectual enquiry is confirmed by self-experience, who can initiate one into a mantra, meditation or Sadhana (spiritual practice) by transmitting live energy or knowledge during initiation.
  • Sat Guru – One who has achieved the final goal of Self Realization; These Gurus have the power to affect you whether they are embodied or not. They are transcended but we don’t need their physical presence to connect to their guidance.
  • Aadhi GuruSupreme First GuruPathanjali mentions in the text, Yoga Sutra, 1:25-27- that Ishvara is the Divine Guru and , AUM or the Word is the original Guru vibration which can guide us to our divine essence.

Finding a Guru

Ancient texts also talk about Guru tattva, the essence of the supreme teacher. This, they say, is brought into your spiritual practice by the repetition or meditation on AUM. It helps to cultivate a pure intention to find the “right teacher” and to develop the ability to listen to intuition in order to tap into the essence of Guru Tattva.  Ultimately, this will improve and strengthen our Guru Karma, opening the way to knowledge. Yoga teaches us that the types of Gurus/teachers we attract to ourselves in our life is a reflection of our own Guru Karma.

When asked if I had found a Guru, my response – from the place of ego was – not yet – because I am looking for – elaborating a long list of requirements. Of course, not realizing that my finite mind with a list of finite characteristics, finite personality descriptions, finite knowledge cannot find the Infinite Absolute in a Guru, even if I tried.

Guru, a true teacher I’m told – masked by my ego, is very near; an inner teacher, already active, extending an invisible hand – guiding me every step of the way. He found me. Ah yes – you are wondering how this happened; as if he knocked on my door to introduce himself. In fact, he did – knocked on the door of my consciousness, announced himself through my intuition and now, has settled happily in my heart. I am truly blessed.

Guru Stotrama popular hymn is chanted by many – as way of offering gratitude for guidance as well as deliberateness to find the right Guru.  Over the years, I have chanted this mantra as a vow, with an intention to find answers. It has not failed me. Each time the power of this mantra has guided me to find great teachers to help me on my spiritual journey.

A yoga teacher can share impressive asana sequences, alignment tips, breathing techniques and other practices that can help students achieve good health and feel uplifted. But only a Guru can bring a student face to face with Ishvara, Divine essence (Yoga Sutras).

There is an ancient saying – “when the student is ready the teacher appears”. What does the word “ready” mean? I think it translates to “How did the student “prepare” himself or herself to receive a guru?”

Let’s explore the role of a yoga student or a spiritual seeker in the next post. Until then be the best student you can be – for your true Guru may be just around the corner.


Further Study

  1. Saraswati, Satyasangananda Swami. Light on Guru and Disciple Relationship.1983. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India.
  2. Tigunait, Rajamani, Pundit.PhD. 1996. The Power of Mantra and The Mystery of Initiation. Himalayan Institute Press, Honedale, PA
  5. (14 videos in this series)

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