The Importance and Role of a Guru

Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharishi

Role of a Guru

The most superficial and elementary meaning of the word ‘guru’, is ‘teacher’, and the first acquirement of knowledge for man begins with his parents. As he evolves towards Perfection, the meaning and significance of the word ‘teacher’ also modify, from literal to the spiritual entirety, to mean the Self. The Guru-Sishya (disciple) Parampara or tradition is most ancient and may be found in most of the religions of the world, in some form or the other. But in the Hindu Sanatana Dharma, its significance is most profound, not confined merely to the teacher-student relationship. As the student matures in his spiritually evolutionary stature, the teacher who was ever the Self, assumes the role of the Guru to guide him to perfection or God-realization.

Who is a Guru?

The word Guru is a by-syllable Sanskrit word ‘Gu‘ and ‘Ru‘. Gu stands for darkness, Avidhya or ignorance, and Ru for removal. It is relevant to quote the Guru Gita,

गुकारश्चान्धकारो हि रुकारस्तेज उच्यते |
अज्ञानग्रासकं ब्रह्म गुरुरेव न संशयः ||
gukaraschandakarascha rukarastejauchyate
ajnana grasakam brahma gurureva na samsayah

Guru Gita Chapter 1 Verse 32

The syllable ‘gu‘ stands for darkness and ‘ru‘ for light. There is no doubt that the Guru is the supreme knowledge that swallows the darkness of ignorance. Irrevocably established in the Self, the Maharshi’s replies to his devotees would be in that light always. He remains ever alert to seize the opportunity to emphasize the need and importance of the Guru, that Self ­Realization is not possible without His grace.

“Without the grace of the Guru, Self-realization is not possible. What is this Guru? From the standpoint of knowledge, it is the supreme state of the Self, different from the ego. The ego is the individuality and is not the lord of all. When it approaches the Lord with sincere devotion, He graciously assumes name and form and takes it on Himself. Therefore it is said that the Guru is none other than the Lord. He is the human embodiment of Divine Grace. In the case of some great souls, God reveals Himself as the Light of the Light from within.”

“The Guru is not a person or a physical entity, he is none other than the Self, the Maharshi said. When a man prays to God to fulfill his desires, then a time comes when he does not pray for the fulfillment of any desire, but for God Himself. God then appears to him in some form or the other, human or otherwise, to guide him, as a Guru, in answer to his prayer. God, Guru, and Self are identical. A spiritual-minded man thinks that God is all-pervading and takes God for his Guru. Later, on his maturing in the spiritual path, God brings him in contact with his personal Guru and he recognizes him as all in all.

Ultimately, by the grace of the Master, he is made to realize that his Self is the Reality and nothing else. Thus he finds that the Self is the Guru.” “The Guru is both outer and inner. From outside he gives a push to the mind to turn inward while from inside he pulls it towards the Self and helps in quieting it. That is the grace of the Guru. There is no difference between God, Guru, and Self.” When asked how to control the restless mind and how long a guru is required, the Maharshi said,

“To a person of strong will and indefatigable faith in Guru’s teachings, the mind gets controlled automatically.”

He recommends Pranayam or breath control such as Kriya Yoga as an effective means of controlling the mind and aiding Self-enquiry, which leads to Self -Realization. Merely watching the breath, he says, also controls the mind, which in turn harmonizes the inhalation and exhalation resulting in stilling the mind. In his Ramana Gita, explaining the three paths, he mentions:

“In the interior of the Heart-cave, Brahman alone shines as Atman with direct immediacy as ‘I’ (aham), ‘I’ (aham). Enter into the Heart with questioning mind or by diving deep within or through breath- control, and abide in the Self.”

Guru is necessary as long as there is the ‘laghu‘ (Guru also denotes ‘heavy’ and laghu is ‘light’). Laghu is due to the wrong self-imposed limitation of the Self, that one is non-Self or Anatma. As long as you think you are separate and that you are a body, so long is the outer master is also necessary and He will appear as if with a body. When the wrong identification of yourself with the body ceases, the master will be found to be none other than the Self. God on being worshipped, bestows steadiness in devotion which leads to surrender. To the devotee on surrendering, God showers. His mercy by manifesting as the Guru, and blessing him with the inner realization, God is your true inner Self (Atman). Till then self-effort or sadhana is necessary. Till the Self-shines in its true state, ‘sahaja sthithi‘, an effort continues to culminate in the state of ‘Ananda’. When a questioner wanted to know the distinctive characteristics of a Satguru, the Maharshi said:

“The Guru is one who at all times abides in the profound He sees no difference between himself and others and is free from the idea that he is the Enlightened one while others are in bondage of ignorance. His equanimity is never shaken and he remains unperturbed under all circumstances.”

How is the Guru found?

God who is immanent, in His grace takes pity on the loving devotee and manifests Himself according to the devotee’s development. The devotee thinks that he is a person, a physical entity, and expects a relationship between two physical bodies. But the Guru who is God or the works from within, helps him to see his mistakes and guides him in the right path until he realizes the Self within.

What should the devotee do then?

“He has only to act according to the words of his master who works both from the outside and inside as the Self.”

The great Master observes that:

“The ego is Self-shines elephant which cannot be brought under control by any creature less powerful than a lion, which, in this instance, is none other than the Guru, whose very looks make the elephant-like ego tremble and die. You will know in due course that your glory lies where you (the ego) cease to exist. In order to gain that state, you should surrender yourself. Then sees that you are in the right state to receive guidance and He guides you.”

The Maharishi observes that:

“So long as you seek Self-Realization, the Guru is necessary. Guru is the Self. Take Guru to be real Self, and yourself to be the individual self. The disappearance of this sense of duality is the removal of ignorance. So long as duality persists in you, the Guru is necessary. Because you identify yourself with the body, you think that the Guru is the body. Neither you nor the Guru is the body. You are the Self and so is the Guru. This knowledge is gained by what you call Self-Realization. Guru is the formless Self that is within you.”

Isn’t the Self already within?

 God, Grace, and Guru are synonymous and are both eternal and imminent. Jnana (spiritual knowledge) is that silent understanding and not the verbal definitions that are usually given to it. Silence is the most potent form of work. However vast and emphatic the scriptures may be, they fail in their effect. Guru is prevailing in all. His silence is vast than all the scriptures put together. The grace of the Guru is like an ocean. If he comes with a cup he will get only a cupful. It is no use complaining of the niggardliness of the ocean; the bigger the vessel the more he will be able to carry. It is entirely up to him.

How can one know whether a particular person is competent to be Guru?

The Maharshi says,

“By the peace of mind one feels in his presence and the respect he feels for him.”

It is sometimes asked how a Jivanmukta or Satguru continues to guide disciples after death when he has merged in the Absolute, the Self of all. The Self-realized master is already consciously one with the Absolute even while still embodied. If this is not incompatible with initiation and guidance while he wears a body, and it is not afterward. Death makes no difference to him, no change in his state. There is nothing more to be acquired because he is that now; there is nothing to be lost as he has already surrendered the ego completely. The Guru is not in the physical form, hence contact remains even after his physical form is not there. To a devotee who wanted to know whether a Guru is necessary for Realization, Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi said,

“Realization is the result of Guru’s grace, more than teachings, lectures, meditation etc. The rest are only secondary aids, the grace of Guru alone is the most important and direct aid for realization.”

The Swetasvatara Upanishad says:

यस्य देवे परा भक्तिः यथा देवे तथा गुरौ ।
तस्यैते कथिता ह्यर्थाः प्रकाशन्ते महात्मनः ॥ २३॥
yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau / 
tasyaite kathitā hy arthāḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ prakāśante mahātmanaḥ // 6.23 //

Shvetasvatara Upanishad Chapter 6 Verse 23


“These truths, when taught, shine forth in that high-souled one who has supreme devotion to God, and an equal degree of devotion to his spiritual teacher, the Guru. “

Shankara says in paying his tributes to the Satguru:

” No known comparison exists in the three worlds for a true Guru. If the philosophers stone is assumed to be true, it can only turn iron into gold, not into another philosophers’ stone. A Satguru, on the other hand, creates equality with himself in the disciple who surrenders to him, who is therefore peerless, nay even transcendental.”

The Trinity is explained thus by Sri Ramana Maharshi:

isvaro gururatmeti murtibedavibhagine vyomavad vyaptadehaya dhakshnamurtaye  namah


“God, the Father is Isvara, God, the Holy Spirit is Atman And God the Son represents the Guru.”

“Signifying, that God the formless Self-manifests to His devotee in the form of a Guru (represented by Son of God) and reveals to him the immanence of Holy Spirit. God is the Spirit or the Self-imminent everywhere i.e all-pervading as space, which must be realized within oneself. To such a manifestation as the Lord Sri Dakshinamurthi, may our prostrations be.”

May you remember your divinity and divine inheritance.

With Love and Best Wishes,
Paramahansa Atmananda Ji

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