Spiritual Guide – Guru

by eminent yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru

In the yogic tradition, the Sanskrit term guru designates the Spiritual Guide, no matter what spiritual path is followed, either in a religious context, in yoga practice or on another authentic spiritual path.

Etymologically, the word guru means “the one who scatters darkness and brings light” and sometimes it is also translated as master, spiritual teacher or Spiritual Guide. In the Orient, in general, but mostly in India, there is tremendous respect dedicated to the Spiritual Guide. Also, in the Hesychasm tradition it is considered that the neophyte cannot advance in the practice of the prayer of the heart without the influence and spiritual guidance of an experienced monk, who is called gheron in Greek (meaning “old sage”). Moreover, the apprentice owes his master absolute compliance and regards him as his spiritual parent.

In modern society in the West, the notion of guru is often mistaken. Thus, the word guru is mostly used either to designate a particular significance, that of an “expert” in a certain field, or even in a pejorative form, to suggest the context of a sect, associated with fanaticism.

From a spiritual perspective, we can state that for an aspirant, his Spiritual Guide, or his master, is the incarnation of the Godly, transcendent mystery itself, towards which he needs to aspire relentlessly.

This particular type of relationship between the Spiritual Guide and the disciple is represented in the East, as already stated, by the guru (the Spiritual Guide) and chela (the spiritual disciple). An authentic guru who is most often a live, liberated being in the spiritual Hindu tradition (jivanmukta) will never cease to lovingly help and guide his disciples on the hard path of their spiritual accomplishment. Doubt and lack of obedience in spiritual practice on the part of the disciple most often leads to delays, deviations or aberrations in his spiritual progress. If, on the contrary, there is trust and complete docility from the aspirant, then, being helped by God, the guru can impel him and thus, a radical transformation will occur in the being of the adept.

The relationship between the Spiritual Guide and the aspirant is fully harmonious when the guru manifests a profound intuition regarding the subtle nature of his trainee and when the student is full of devotion and diligence in his spiritual practice. The aspirant will make tremendous spiritual progress when his relationship with the Spiritual Guide is just and harmonious. This justness implies, above all, that he has total confidence in his master, because such an attitude can keep him from slipping towards failure.

The moment in which the consciousness of the aspirant accepts the words of the Spiritual Guide as being completely true, and then lives in the deepest accord with them, represents the threshold of spiritual realisation. In a way, this awakens through faith, but faith has to be intense and durable. Still, faith alone is not enough, just as, for example, strong faith in the existence of mysteries is not enough for them to be revealed. What is truly important is for this faith to be expressed in a plenary way in almost any action.

The Hindu tradition mentions four distinct levels assigned to the traditional notion of Spiritual Guide (guru):
1) Our parents who allow us to access our body, since they help us incarnate and get acquainted with life and its difficulties.
2) Our teachers from school, as well as all those involved in our education and formation.
3) Our Spiritual Guide, the one who knows the spiritual path leading to the state of liberation and the one who explains to us life’s meaning and purpose, showing us the way to self-realisation, as well as the dangers and difficulties of our existence. He is able to guide us and impel us on the spiritual path; however he cannot walk it in our stead. Great Spiritual Guides claim there is no “piggy back-riding” from the spiritual point of view. In other words, there is no tolerance for egotistic spiritual leeches.
4) The supreme cosmic Spiritual Guide (avatara) that the Spiritual Guide leads us to.

With the Spiritual Guide, we can always ask two questions:
1) Is the Spiritual Guide truly necessary on the spiritual path?
2) What does having full confidence in our Spiritual Guide mean?

As an answer to the first question, Indian sages generally quote a simple essential example. When we arrive in a completely unknown town looking for a certain road in particular, there are two ways of proceeding. We either go on all streets one after the other, until after a few months or a year later we find the right one, and with a little bit of bad luck we run the risk of that street being the last one we will find. Or better yet, we could ask an inhabitant of the city who will show us the easy and fast way to get to the place where we want to go. Analogically speaking, the Spiritual Guide is exactly that inhabitant who knows the city very well and is familiar with all the hidden spots and all obstacles we may encounter in the area of spirituality.

Sacred writings state that from a certain spiritual level (a real level and not a fantasy) the Supreme Self (Atman) becomes the Spiritual Guide that leads us in order to correctly follow the road. In Sanskrit, there is a special term to designate this “inner Spiritual Guide”: Antaryamin.

When it comes to complete compliance towards the guru, this loses all its significance if it is conducted through force, terror, constraint or without our own will. If we have a very good relationship with the Spiritual Guide, if we give him our complete faith, then we will listen to him through devotedness, understanding and love, and spontaneously, even if we will not be able to immediately comprehend the reason or the meaning of his advice and guidance.

Sage Shivananda stated, “The Spiritual Guide will lead us to supreme liberation. Therefore, a Spiritual Guide is absolutely necessary on the spiritual path. There are cases when we would give all we have in order to know what to do and which way to go. We want to do what is right, however we hesitate between two ways of acting.

Then, a Spiritual Guide may help us enormously. Through the Spiritual Guide, God accepts the task of being our guide. The Spiritual Guide knows the way and will lead us until we peacefully reach the end of our journey. How could we ask for a better guide? Let us then surrender ourselves to his guidance and we will never run the risk of taking the wrong path.

Those who offer themselves entirely to his guidance will never be in danger of going the wrong way. The very etymology of the word “guru” associates the Spiritual Guide with the light of God and shows that he is the aspirant’s Godly guide.

According to yogic tradition and that of all authentic spiritual paths, by following the wise advice of the Spiritual Guide, which springs from the direct spiritual experience of the truths of spirit, the aspirant has a guarantee that he will never get lost in spiritual life. Thus, if the Spiritual Guide is considered to be forever the channel of God, God will never cease to guide the aspirant through his Spiritual Guide, leading him not just until his death, but beyond it, to gain freedom and bliss for all eternity.

A wise saying states that an authentic Spiritual Guide is:
– a creative, profoundly beneficial ray of hope for empathic and intuitive human beings who manifest a vivid sympathy for him;
– a strange, frightening, unexplainable threat for those human beings who are dumb, selfish, mean and intolerant, which is exactly why they manifest an eerie state of antagonism and even hatred towards him;
– just an insignificant unknown for indifferent human beings, an unknown that never awakens anything in them, except a state of indifference.

Excerpt from Guru-ology, 550 aphorisms of yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru


March 9, 2023




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