The Role of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma by Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D."Many cannot even hear about the soul, and even after hearing about the soul, many cannot understand it; this is because it is hard to find an Acharya who is a genuine seer of the truth. Such a qualified Acharya is a great soul and is very rare. At the same time, realization of the truth can be had only by those disciples who carefully follow the qualified Acharya's teachings and become expert in the science of God. Such disciples are also very rare. Thus it is that only a few ever come to know the soul in truth." - (Katha Upanisad, 1.2.7.)
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The Role of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
International Sanatana Dharma Society
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
"Just try to learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the Truth."
(Bhagavad Gita, 4:34)
The concept of practicing spiritual life under the guidance of an authentic and qualified guru, or spiritual teacher, has been central to the entire Dharmic world-view from the beginning of time, down to our present day. So important has the role of the guru always been in Vedic culture, that there is no Hindu tradition or sampradaya (school of thought) in all of Sanatana Dharma that does not offer the greatest of respect to the importance of the guru. The great Vedantic text known as the Vedanta-sara paints the following dramatic picture in order to convey the importance of having a guru in one's spiritual pursuit:
janana-maranadi-samsaranala-santapto dipta-sira jala-rasim iva
upahara-panbm sotriyam brahma-nistham gurum upasrtya tam anusarati
"Just as a person whose head is on fire runs to water, one who burns from the flames of birth, death, old age, and disease in the holocaust of material existence must run to a genuine guru for relief. Such a guru must be fixed in the Absolute Truth and well-versed in the scriptures. One should approach him with all that is needed for sacrifice and submit to him as a disciple, ready to carry out his every instruction."
In our present era, the term "guru" has become very well known even throughout the non-Hindu world, in addition to being known within Sanatana Dharma. Indeed, the very word "guru" has today become a part of the standard English lexicon with such terms as "computer guru", "health guru", "economics guru", etc. being employed in daily usage. While the use of the word has become widespread, however, the sacrosanct importance of the station of guru is not as deeply understood in contemporary society as it once was. In the following work, I will be briefly explaining the traditional Dharmic understanding of the importance of the guru in the life of the spiritual practitioner, as well as dispelling some of the more common myths often wrongly associated with the principle of guru.
Interestingly, the very word "guru" itself is actually a somewhat generalized term that simply means a competent teacher of any kind. Any skilled expert who is authorized to teach a specific subject can be considered a guru in the most general of senses. Thus, there can be a sitar guru, a martial arts guru, a medicinal sciences guru, or a fine arts guru. When the word is used in the overtly spiritual sense, however, then we are talking about a guru of a categorically different nature. The spiritual guru is specifically designated as a "sadguru" or a teacher of Truth. It is the sadguru, the conveyor of Truth, who serves as the underlying model of any and all other types of gurus.
It has always been universally recognized that one can only learn a specialized field of important knowledge from a qualified and well-trained teacher, an expert on that particular subject who has both theoretical knowledge, as well as the acquired experience necessary to bring that knowledge to life. If one were to study to become a medical doctor, for example, it is understood that the only way to truly understand medicine is to go to a recognized school, and learn under the instruction of very experienced professors who themselves are recognized doctors trained and authorized to teach. If we attempt to learn to become a doctor by merely reading books on our own without the benefit of such expert guidance, we will be doing both ourselves and our later patients the greatest of disservices. Rather than curing our patients, in fact, we will most likely harm them due to our not having learned medicine from a living authority.
Similarly, it has been universally recognized in our Hindu tradition since the most ancient of times that if one wishes to understand and make progress in the realm of spirituality, one must also seek guidance under the most able spiritual professionals available. Such a spiritual professional is the guru.
According to the Bhagavata Purana:
tasmad gurum prapadyeta
jijnasum sreyam uttamam
sabde pare ca nisnatam
"One who is searching for the Ultimate Truth must surrender unto a spiritual master, a guru. A guru knows the inner meaning of the Vedas, is fixed in the Absolute Truth and is expert in the shastra, the revealed scriptures."
(Bhagavata Purana, 11.3.21)
Of all types of gurus, the scriptures (Shastras) of Sanatana Dharma have recognized the Acharya as the most important form that the principle of guru can take. Acharyavan puruso veda, "Only one who has an Acharya can know the Truth." (Chandogya Upanisad, 6.18.2) It is only under the guidance of an Acharya who knows the Truth that a seeker can in turn know Truth.
The sadguru is a spiritual teacher. The Acharya, moreover, is considered to be a sadguru who has attained a much higher stage of personal spiritual development, and who thus has more responsibility in the realm of Dharmic leadership. An Acharya is a spiritual preceptor who represents a living lineage (sampradaya) of Sanatana Dharma, and who embodies the teachings of Dharma in his own life, thus teaching the world by his own personal living example. While every Acharya fulfills the function of a guru, not every guru can be considered an Acharya.
More than merely being a teacher in the formal academic sense, however, the Acharya guru is recognized as also being someone who possesses divine qualities due to his own years of practice and inner realization, and who thus perfectly personifies the fruit of spiritual teachings in his own life.
acinoti yam sastrartham
acare sthapayaty api
svayam acarate yasma
acharyas tena kirtitam
"An Acharya is one who fully understands the conclusions of the revealed scriptures. His own behavior reflects his deep realization, and thus he is a living example of divine precept. He is therefore known as an Acharya, or one who teaches the meaning of the scriptures both by word and deed."
The qualified and authentic guru is not merely someone who teaches the Truth verbally, but who also lives that Truth perfectly, and who then reflects that Truth to his students in a living and dynamic way.
In the present Age of Conflict (Kali Yuga), unfortunately, we often encounter unqualified and self-anointed individuals who claim to be gurus while often falling very far short of the true meaning of this term. Often such unqualified persons do not possess the prerequisite qualities, training, and characteristics necessary to call themselves a guru in the authentic and scripturally-based sense of this term. The scriptures of Sanatana Dharma have given us very clear and unambiguous guidelines of many of the most important qualities necessary in order to recognize whether or not a person is in fact an authentic and qualified guru. Some of these guidelines are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita:
sthita-dhir munir ucyate
"One who is not disturbed in spite of the threefold miseries, who is not elated when experiencing pleasantness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind."
(Bhagavad Gita, 2:56)
Thus, the sadguru (true guru) is inwardly detached and transcends the sufferings of this world, accepting material pleasure and pain, suffering and pleasantness with equal demeanor. It is as a result of the true guru's transcendent status - and the consequent calm, peace, and gravitas that the guru exudes at all times - that the true guru has the ability to help his student to similarly transcend the darkness of ignorance.
More, the true guru exhibits certain necessary inherent qualities that are a reflection of the fact that he is presencing the Divine in his own life. Again, the Bhagavad Gita gives us several lists of these important transcendental qualities of the true guru, or the liberated sage, including the following important characteristics:
"The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor--these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature."
(Bhagavad Gita, 16:1-3)
In this way, the guru personifies the fruit of a sattvic (spiritually positive) lifestyle and of years of meditative practice.
A true guru is known, not merely by how much charisma they may possess, or by what cheap supposed miracles they seemingly perform, or by how popular they have become with the gullible masses due to well-formulated PR and marketing campaigns. Rather, true gurus are known by whether or not they personify the qualities of a guru that are clearly outlined in the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma. Any person who claims to be a true guru, but who does not exhibit all the qualities of a true guru that are revealed in the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, is a false guru and must be immediately rejected as a charlatan if the student is going to make any progress toward the goal of transcendental realization.
It is precisely because the true guru both personifies the very highest philosophical teachings (siddhanta), as well as the moral and yogic behavior described in our scriptures that the guru has the ability to deliver us from ignorance to wisdom, from darkness to the light, and from bondage to freedom.
According to our scriptures, when we find ourselves in the presence of such an authentic guru, it is almost as if we are in the very presence of God Himself; because like God, the sadguru has the ability to show us Truth, and to thus set us free. In the Bhagavata Purana, Sri Krishna confirms this in His instructions to His great devotee Uddhava:
acharyam mam vijaniyam
na martya buddhyasuyeta
sarva-deva mayo gurum
[Krishna told Uddhava] "Know the Acharya as My very Self. I am the Acharya. Never envy the Acharya; never blaspheme him or consider him to be an ordinary man. Because the Acharya channels the infinite, He is greater than the sum total of all the finite. Thus, he is more important than all the gods."
Further, Sri Krishna explains in the same sacred text that to even view the liberated Acharya as an ordinary man, and to not offer one's due respects to such an exhalted guru, is considered by Him to be a great offense (guru-maha-aparadha):
yasya saksad bhagavati
jnana-dipa prade gurau
martyasad-dhim srutam tasya
"The guru must be considered to be like the Supreme Lord Himself, because he bestows the light of transcendental knowledge upon his disciples. Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the guru is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated. His attempts to make progress in spiritual life - his Vedic studies and scriptural knowledge, his penances and austerities, and his worship of the deity - are all as useless as the bathing of an elephant who rolls in the mud after his bath."
Confirmation of these Vedic instructions on the nature of sadguru is found throughout the length and breadth of the Hindu scriptures. For example, in the Padma Purana it is explained that: gurus nara-matir yasya va naraki sam, "One who thinks that the guru is an ordinary man is said to live in ignorance." In this way, we see that the totality of the scriptures speak in one, unified and authoritative voice on the importance of the guru and the unique role of the guru is the life of one who claims the desire to know Truth.
Later in this same conversation, Uddhava replies to Sri Krishna's instruction in the same vein:
naivopayanty apacitim kavayas tavesa
brahmayusapi krtam rddha mudam smarantam
yo'ntar bahis tanu-bhrtam asubham vidhunvann
acarya-caittya vapusa sva-gatim vyanakti
[Uddhava said to Sri Krishna] "O my Lord! Transcendental poets and experts in spiritual science could not fully express their indebtedness to You, even if they were endowed with the lifetime of Brahma, for You appear in two features - externally as the Acharya and internally as the Paramatman, the Supreme Self - to deliver the embodied living beings by revealing to them your devotional service and teaching them how to approach you on the path of divine love."
In addition to explaining both the nature and the qualities of the sadguru, the scriptures also explain that it is likewise very important to understand the important qualities that must be present in a sincere and qualified student. In the Katha Upanishad, for example, we read the following:
sravanayapi bahubhir yo na labhyam
srnvanto 'pi bahavo na vidyum
acharyo 'sya vakta kusalo 'sya labhda
acharyo jnata kushala nushishtam
"Many cannot even hear about the soul, and even after hearing about the soul, many cannot understand it; this is because it is hard to find an Acharya who is a genuine seer of the truth. Such a qualified Acharya is a great soul and is very rare. At the same time, realization of the truth can be had only by those disciples who carefully follow the qualified Acharya's teachings and become expert in the science of God. Such disciples are also very rare. Thus it is that only a few ever come to know the soul in truth."
(Katha Upanisad, 1.2.7.)
To find a sincere and worthy student is thus explained as being just as difficult as finding a qualified and worthy sadguru. The highest attainment of transcendent Truth, and the personal spiritual liberation (moksha) that results from such a realization, is the most difficult goal to realize. Thus, Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita:
Kashchid yatati siddhaye
Yatatam api siddhanam
Kashchin mam vetti tattvatah
"Of many thousands of men, one will attempt to reach perfection; and of the few who reach this goal, only a rare soul will perhaps know Me as I am."
(Bhagavad Gita, 7:3)
When a sincere student and a qualified sadguru finally do find each other, and unite in the eternal process of spiritual exchange – the guru sharing his insight, instruction, and empowering presence with the student; and the student learning and growing spiritually with humility, sincerity, openness and eagerness – we then witness the perfect conditions necessary for the celebration and living of Truth. If you are seeking Truth, then seek the guidance of one who has seen the Truth. Seek the sadguru.
Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.) is an American who has been practicing Sanatana Dharma for over 35 years. He has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies.
His primary websites are:
© Dr. Frank Morales, 2009
The Three Meanings of Atman - Parabrahman, Brahman and brahman
"Ultimately there is only one Self, the supreme Self, which is manifested at different levels of reality. First of all, the Paramatman, the Supreme Self, can be conceived as beyond all word and all thought. It is the ultimate transcendent mystery. Secondly, the atman can be conceived as the source of all reality, the source of all creation, of consciousness and of human existence. Thirdly, the same atman can be conceived as indwelling in each person, each thing. In each one of us the One, the Supreme Spirit, is dwelling. That Supreme Spirit dwelling in me is my higher Self. These three senses are fundamental. The absolute Supreme, beyond everything, the 'Parabrahman' or 'Paramatman', then the brahman or atman as the source of everything, the creator Spirit, and then the atman or brahman manifested in every person in every thing, the indwelling Self. That is my higher Self and it is ultimately one with the Supreme."
The One Light - Bede Griffiths' Principal Writings
Chapter IV, East, Part One - The Wisdom of India p.204
Edited and with Commentary by Bruno Barnhart
Templegate Publishers, Springfield, Illinois
Central Theological and Philosophical Characteristics
The Mahadevi, both the saguna and nirguna form, has always insisted on this: "Let Us Meditate". The appended article is probably the best i have read about the Mahadevi, who not only is my very Self (brahman) but the entire cosmos too (Brahman) ....... and Beyond (Parabrahman)!
This quintessence (the most perfect embodiment) of Divine Knowledge, the very elixir of immortality, ends all searching. It is a most priceless pearl of Sacred Knowledge that must be deeply contemplated forever.
regards to all,
Central Theological and Philosophical Characteristics
ČAn underlying theological assumption in texts celebrating the Mahadevi is that the ultimate reality in the universe is a powerful, creative, active, transcendent female being. The Lalita-sahasranama gives many names of the Mahadevi, and several of her epithets express this assumption. She is called, for example, the root of the world (Jagatikanda, name 325), she who transcends the universe (Visvadhika, 334), she who has no equal (Nirupama, 389), supreme ruler (Paramesvari, 396), she who pervades all (Vyapini, 400), she who is immeasurable (Aprameya, 413), she who creates innumerable universes (Anekakotibrahmandajanani, 620), she whose womb contains the universe (Visvagarbha, 637), she who is the support of all (Sarvadhara, 659), she who is omnipresent (Sarvaga, 702), she who is the ruler of all worlds (Sarvalokesi, 758), and she who supports the universe (Visvadharini, 759). In the Devi-bhagavata-purana, which also assumes the ultimate priority of the Mahadevi, she is said to be the mother of all, to pervade the three worlds, to be the support of all (1.5.47-50), to be the life force of all beings, to be the ruler of all beings (1.5.51-54), to be the only cause of the universe (1.7.27), to create Brahma, Visnu, and Siva and to command them to perform their cosmic tasks (3.5.4.), to be the root of the tree of the universe (3.10.15), and to be she who is supreme knowledge (4.15.12). The text describes her by many other names and phrases as it exalts her to a position of cosmic supremacy.
One of the central philosophic ideas underlying the Mahadevi, an idea that in many ways captures her essential nature, is sakti. Sakti means "power"; in Hindu philosophy and theology sakti is understood to be the active dimension of the godhead, the divine power that underlies the godhead's ability to create the world and to display itself. Within the totality of the godhead, sakti is the complementary pole of the divine tendency towards quiescence and stillness. It is quite common, furthermore, to identify sakti with a female being, a goddess, and to identify the other pole with her male consort. The two poles are understood to be interdependent and to have relatively equal status in terms of divine economy.
Texts of contexts exalting the Mahadevi, however, usually affirm sakti to be a power, or the power, underlying ultimate reality, or to be the ultimate reality itself. Instead of being understood as one or two poles or as one dimension of a bipolar conception of the divine, sakti as it applies to the Mahadevi is often identified with the essence of reality. If the Mahadevi as sakti is related to another dimension of the divine in the form of a male deity, he will tend to play a subservient role in relation to her. In focussing on the centrality of sakti as constituting the essence of the divine, texts usually describe the Mahadevi as a powerful, active, dynamic being who creates, pervades, governs, and protects the universe. As sakti, she is not aloof from the world but attentive to the cosmic rhythms and the needs of her devotees.
In a similar vein the Mahadevi is often identified with prakrti and maya. Indeed, two of her most common epithets are Mulaprakrti (she who is primordial matter) and Mahamaya (she who is great maya)... In the quest for liberation prakrti represents that from which one seeks freedom. Similarly, most schools of Hindu philosophy identify maya with that which prevents one from seeing things as they really are. Maya is the process of superimposition by which one projects one's own ignorance on the world and thus obscures ultimate truth. To wake up to the truth of things necessarily involves counteracting or overcoming maya, which is grounded in ignorance and self-infatuation. Liberation in Hindu philosophy means to a great extent the transcendence of embodied, finite, phenomenal existence. And maya is often equated precisely with finite, phenomenal existence. To be in the phenomenal world, to be an individual creature, is to live enveloped in maya.
When the Mahadevi is associated with prakrti or maya, certain negative overtones sometimes persist. As prakrti or maya she is sometimes referred to as the great power that preoccupies individuals with phenomenal existence or as the cosmic force that impels even the gods to unconsciousness and sleep. But the overall result of the Mahadevi's identification with prakrti and maya is to infuse both ideas with positive dimensions. As prakrti or maya, the Devi is identified with existence itself, or with that which underlies all existent things. The emphasis is not on the binding aspects of matter or the created world but on the Devi as the ground of all things. Because it is she who pervades the material world as prakrti or maya, the phenomenal world tends to take on positive qualities. Or perhaps we could say that a positive attitude toward the world, which is evident in much of popular Hinduism, is affirmed when the Devi is identified with prakrti and maya. The central theological point here is that the Mahadevi is the world, she is all this creation, she is one with her creatures and her creation. Although a person's spiritual destiny ultimately may involve transcendence of the creation, the Devi's identification with existence per se is clearly intended to be a positive philosophical assertion. She is life, and to the extent that life is cherished and revered, she is cherished and revered.
As sakti, prakrti, and maya, the Devi is portrayed as an overwhelming presence that overflows itself, spilling forth into the creation, suffusing the world with vitality, energy, and power. When the Devi is identified with these well-known philosophical ideas, then, a positive point is being made: the Devi creates the world, she is the world. and she enlivens the world with creative power. As sakti, prakrti, and maya, she is not understood so much as binding creatures to finite existence as being the very source and vitality of creatures. She is the source of creatures—their mother—and as such her awesome, vital power is revered.
The idea of brahman is another central idea with which the Devi is associated. Ever since the time of the Upanishads, brahman has been the most commonly accepted term or designation for the ultimate reality in Hinduism. In the Upanishads, and throughout the Hindu tradition, brahman is described in two ways: as nirguna (having no qualities or beyond all qualities) and saguna (having qualities). As nirguna, which is usually affirmed to be the superior way of thinking about brahman, ultimate reality transcends all qualities, categories, and limitations. As nirguna, brahman transcends all attempts to circumscribe it. It is beyond all name and form (nama-rupa). As the ground of all things, as the fundamental principle of existence, however, brahman is also spoken of as having qualities, indeed, as manifesting itself in a multiplicity of deities, universes, and beings. As saguna, brahman reveals itself especially as the various deities of the Hindu pantheon. The main philosophical point asserted in the idea of saguna brahman is that underlying all the different gods is a unifying essence, namely, brahman. Each individual deity is understood to be a partial manifestation of brahman, which ultimately is beyond all specifying attributes, functions, and qualities.
The idea of brahman serves well the attempts in many texts devoted to the Devi to affirm her superior position in the Hindu pantheon. The idea of brahman makes two central philosophical points congenial to the theology of the Mahadevi: (1) she is ultimate reality itself, and (2) she is the source of all divine manifestations, male and female (but especially female). As saguna brahman, the Devi is portrayed as a great cosmic queen enthroned in the highest heaven, with a multitude of deities as the agents through which she governs the infinite universes. In her ultimate essence, however, some texts, despite their clear preference for the Devi's feminine characteristics, assert in traditional fashion that she is beyond all qualities, beyond male and female."
David R. Kinsley, Hindu goddesses: visions of the divine feminine in the Hindu religious tradition
University of California Press; 1 edition (July 19, 1988), Pages 133-37
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