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What is a guru?

Guru is spiritual teacher and he leads disciples to self-realization and wisdom. He imparts knowledge to disciple and guides him to divinity. This word is used commonly in Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions and it indicates religious teacher. Origin of this word can be found in Sanskrit an is formed by 2 syllables – Gu and Ru. The word Gu relates to darkness and Ru relates to destruction. The literal translation of Guru is someone who dispels darkness. This etymological explanation is further supplemented by postulation of different texts which discuss nature and role of gurus. Popular example of this discussion would be of etymology of syllables of gur and ru which indicate juxtaposition of light and dark. Ignorance relates to darkness and spiritual knowledge relates to light.

Notion of Guru can be dated back to collection of some ancient texts from India called Upanishads. There are some other texts from India which discuss this concept and they include Bhagvad Gita from Mahabharata- an ancient epic. Guru Gita and Ramayana are some other texts from India which address the role of this person and disciple is called Shishya. In such texts, ideal relationship of Guru and Shishya is exemplified in characters. In Gita, Krishna plays Guru’s role and Arjuna, the warrior prince, is Shishya. He guides him through duty and morality. In Ramayana, this relationship is done with Rama as Guru and Hanuman as Shishya or the disciple. In Guru Geeta, Guru’s role is played by Lord Shiva and his divine consort, Parvati, is the Shishya.

In Hindu tradition, the reverence for guru is done in different ways. Some give the guru deep respect while some assert that he is an embodiment of god on earth. Guidance is necessary for reaching the ultimate spiritual goal or Moksha which is liberation from the cycles of birth and rebirth. In Hindu tradition, for reaching this goal, the guru usually gives his disciple a mantra which is powerful statement or sound. It then guides the disciple in different religious ceremonies and rituals for awakening sleeping snake inside also known as Shakti or Kundalini. Some people also revere Guru above god as it is the Guru who ultimate makes the disciple realize God.

In Buddhist tradition, guru has similar identity to a Hindu even if teachings are a bit different. In Buddhism, the gurus are inspirational and highly respected teachers who eventually lead the disciple to Enlightenment. In some Buddhist branches, guru is considered to be an embodiment of Buddha. This religion propagates that without Guru there can be no true experience or insight and no enlightenment. In Sikhism, Guru retains identity of person as spiritual teacher and also abstracts idea of relating to knowledge that is given through any medium or means.

In west, Guru is regarded as looser and the term isn’t limited just to a religion or spirituality. Anyone who gets followers and is considered as an authority of the arena might be known as Guru. However, some westerners still retain a religious association with concept of Guru. Some of the popular gurus of West are Paramhansa Yogananda and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

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