Is a Guru Necessary?

This is a subject that came up on my Facebook page recently. Do we need to have a teacher to guide our spiritual progress in Hinduism?

I can definitely see how a guru or teacher would be very valuable for many people, at least for part of the journey, but I also think there are other ways to go about it.  One of the things I like about Hinduism is that you do not need an intermediary between yourself and God. Because the divine is within you, you are always capable of accessing it directly.

On the other hand, a guide can be enormously helpful.   Krishnachandra Dasan on the Facebook page made quite a good case for the need for a teacher:

 It could be perceived as you put it [referencing when I said that Krishna says in the Gita that he accepts any offering made with devotion, whether a leaf, a flower, or a drop of water], and yes, as Krishna says, there is no diminishment of any act performed in devotion, however, He also says in verse 18:66, to “Surrender unto Him and He will liberate you”! So, in the same tradition, if one really wants to achieve the fruits of Aradhanam, (which is ultimately moksha, according to all the Vedic sastra’s), then it is recommended that one seeks out a bona fide Acharya, (who represents the traditions and heritage of a Vedic lineage, also known as a ‘Sampradaya’) and undergo the appropriate initiation according to which ever deity / Agama they wish to follow, otherwise, it is described to be like “licking the outside of a honey jar”, going through the motions, but not having access to the nectar and nutrition inside! 

It is also stated:

sruti-smriti-puranadi-
pancaratra-vidhim vina
aikantiki harer bhaktir
utpatayaiva kalpate

“Devotional service to the Lord that ignores the institutes of the authorized Vedic literatures like the Upanishads, Puranas and Narada-pancaratra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society.”

Therefore, the first port of call for anyone who follows Sanatana-dharma, is to seek out a bona fide Acharya and receive the necessary mantras, guidance, knowledge and training from them in order to achieve the ultimate goal of life, which is to understand the self and become free from Samsara, which is the point of all Hindu / Indian based traditions:

“One cannot learn about the Ultimate Truth from the Scriptures through personal reading and self-interpretation — the teaching must come from an authority. In matters of health one does not consult a doctor who is self taught, one goes to a specialist who has studied 
in a recognized school of medicine. In the same manner in order to understand the Ultimate Truth as it really is, one goes to a properly qualified Acharya-purusha”!

Ref: http://yajurvedaustralasia-resources.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/NeedforanAcharya.pdf

This statement is reaffirmed by many quotes from the sastras:

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
prakasante mahatmanah

“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed”! (Ref: Svetasvatara Upanishad, 6.23).

tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
samit-panih srotriyam brahma-nishtham

“If one is actually serious about understanding supernatural, transcendental subject matters, one must approach a bona fide spiritual master”! (Ref: Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12).

The Viṣṇu Purāṇa (3.8.9) states: “The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Viṣhṇu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varṇa and āśrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One must be situated in the institution of the four varṇas and āśramas”! 

Without the assistance of an Acharya, one cannot be ‘properly’ situated in VarnAshram and therefore, as it is stated above, one cannot (ultimately) please the Lord, which is the goal of ‘Bhakti’!

There is a whole chapter in the Srimad Bhagavatam, where Krishna explains to Uddhava the process of worshiping an icon / deity and therein He emphatically states that one should be ‘twice-born’, i.e. initiated and follow the prescribed duties set out in the Vedic literatures: 

SB 11.27.6: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Uddhava, there is no end to the innumerable Vedic prescriptions for executing Deity worship; so I shall explain this topic to you briefly, one step at a time.

SB 11.27.7: One should carefully worship Me by selecting one of the three methods by which I receive sacrifice: Vedic, tantric or mixed.

SB 11.27.8: Now please listen faithfully as I explain exactly how a person who has achieved twice-born status through the relevant Vedic prescriptions should worship Me with devotion.

SB 11.27.9: A twice-born person should worship Me, his worshipable Lord, without duplicity, offering appropriate paraphernalia in loving devotion to My Deity form or to a form of Me appearing upon the ground, in fire, in the sun, in water or within the worshiper’s own heart.

SB 11.27.10: One should first purify his body by cleansing his teeth and bathing. Then one should perform a second cleansing by smearing the body with earth and chanting both Vedic and tantric mantras.

SB 11.27.11: Fixing the mind on Me, one should worship Me by his various prescribed duties, such as chanting the Gāyatrī mantra at the three junctures of the day. Such performances are enjoined by the Vedas and purify the worshiper of reactions to fruitive activities.

(To me “Surrender unto Him and He will liberate you” doesn’t mean seek out a guru, it means surrender to Krishna in your heart. Some of these other quotes can also mean you studying the scriptures, not necessarily needing a teacher to tell you what they mean).

It’s hard for me to know how much someone with no background in Hinduism could learn and pick up on her own. I can imagine one could learn a lot from books and the Internet, but it would help a lot to have a wise man interpreting and guiding at least at first. On the other hand, there are stories of people spontaneously becoming enlightened because they sense the truth and follow it (most likely these people had many previous lifetimes of study and learning).

I had the guidance of a guru for a period of time, so I did have the help until my mind was developed enough to comprehend the fullness of truth.

I’m thinking now that perhaps it is a natural development for someone who didn’t grow up with Hinduism to start to learn the basics from books and the Internet and keep an eye out for an appropriate guru. It’s good to take one’s time and find just the right teacher.

Eventually I do think that you can grow beyond the need for a guru.

You have the truth within you and you are capable of accessing it.

My own background is informing this opinion. I am very wary of gurus and have difficulty trusting anyone outside myself to guide me spiritually. I’ve felt burned before.  However, I also feel confident in my ability to guide my own soul towards enlightenment. I feel the divine spark within me and I am happy for it to guide me.

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • HARRY

    I would have to say YES in my case. But why YES.

    One can fly if they want to without wings, but you need the help of the aeroplane. Only if you know how to make one, and only then you will be free to fly when ever and where ever you want to, but you still have to make one never the less.

    why I have given the example of aeroplane is, because this is how difficult this is. One cannot become enlighten while still be part of the samsar. One has to be reborn ie give up samsar and bondage of the society which is kind of very difficut to give up. This is same as giving up all your worldly possession and your identity your family and your ego at the same time and be free from all the things that effects all human being no matter who ever they are. If you look at the history of all the gurus who are enlighten, they all have given up evrything and gain the most important thing in the world ( enlightenment ). If I successfully say yes to this question then I am hypocrite and a liar and I know I can’t do this. You probably could do it. I don’t know. But I know one thing, I can’t, while still be part of this samsar.

    One cannot operate on one self, even when they are a great doctor. This is why I have to agree with one of your fellow facebook friend.

    I am sure you are very capable individual but my question is can you make your own aeroplane???

    Because I cannot make my own, even tho I have studdied engineering. BTW this does not mean, that I disagree with your conclusion.

    HARRY

  • Seeker

    I would love to find a guru but it’s not that easy. One try was spectacularly unsuccessful. I signed up for a four night, two weekend day course headed by someone who was supposed to be very highly thought of. She started off demanding that we promise to stay with the program because if we didn’t terrible things would happen to us spiritually and psychologically. She also refused to let us take notes nor would she let us ask why we were doing things. It began to remind me of that old U.S. craze (I forget the name of it) where the leader was completely dictatorial and wouldn’t let those going to his seminars out even to answer the call of nature.

    Anyway, I stuck it out until Sunday when I sensed (we were never told what was going to happen) that in the afternoon we were going to go through some kind of initiation ceremony. As subtly as I could, I left the building and had almost reached my car when one of the assistants came running after me, begging me to return and prophesying the most terrible things if I didn’t. She wouldn’t take no for an answer so I just jumped in my car and left.

    After that experience, I really haven’t tried to get too involved with a “guru.” I don’t need the hassle and embarrassment of being chased to my car if I exercise free will!

    • HARRY

      @ Seeker

      That is the best thing you ever did, because I don’t believe in force senario of gurus either. Remember one thing, in hiduism it’s all about freedom never about constrains.

      HARRY

    • Ambaa

      I’ve had similar experiences.

      I am extremely wary now of gurus and that’s a sad thing, but it’s where I’m at right now.

      There were people that I trusted with my spiritual development as a child and I feel that they betrayed that trust. Every time I start to look at showing that kind of respect and reverence to a human teacher, I just immediately feel again like that child without control and without a voice. It scares me too much.

      Being able to and encouraged to question is essential to me. I won’t trust anyone who discourages me from thinking and questioning!

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

    I think the search for a guru should be undertaken with the utmost care, as there are many seekers and there are many people who will provide enlightenment to those seekers for the right fee.

    I would say for many people born into Hinduism, their first gurus are their mother and father. For those who came into it later, yes, there is definitely a need to find someone who can show you the ways, but it can be a trusted elder or friend, not just someone who sits in saffron robes at least on certain days of the week and has memorized countless scriptures.

    What I know about the faith of the family I have married into, I have learned from my mother-in-law and from other friends and elders who have taught me this or that thing along the way. Nothing formal. Just what I need to know.

  • Sandeep

    My only point is if you have Guru then it is Good if Not then rely on Scripture Interpretations by some recognized guru pf your sampraday…IN ancient times Knowledge was transferred via a Guru to Shishya…Guru has Great Respect in Hindu Tradition…But the thing is make sure you have a Guru Not a person who is fooling people in the makeup of Guru..believe in your conscience..If you find a Good Guru then this will be the best thing for you..He will Intiate you…again Guru is just help in the path of Spiritual journey.At last it is you who need to reach the Goal of self Realization.

  • Kaushiki

    Yes! The scriptures are like a wilderness in which you can easily get lost. They contradict, or seem to contradict each other and (at least in my case) the guru is needed to help clear some of the brush out and give you the essentials of the path. You could wander a long time without that help.
    There should be an immediate attraction to the guru and to the dharma that he or she practices. That is the best guru, who will have an intuitive understanding of what you need and how you can progress.
    Also, spiritual pride and delusion is very easy to acquire, the guru helps to cut down that ego of intellectual pride, where the spiritual path is understood on a mind level, but has not become a part of the will, nerves and heart.

  • N. B.

    Matthew 11
    “28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

    • Ambaa

      I’ve said before and I’ll say again, the Bible is nothing but a book to me. It isn’t true, it isn’t an authority, so quoting the Bible at me means nothing. It doesn’t prove a point, it doesn’t convince me of anything.

  • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

    Yes, a Guru is Essential. However, the Guru may take any number of Forms. It may be a parent, a friend, a spouse, a person who has already passed on.

    • Ambaa

      That is an excellent point!

  • Pratheesh

    A seeker’s mind is a confused one and he is asking questions continuously,only a Guru can clear his confused state of mind and show him the path of realization.

  • Pingback: Beware Gurus

  • http://facebook chanchal

    who finds whom , guru finds the descipile or desciple finds guru. traditionally guru in vedic culture were ishwar realised saints and the social system supported guru kul , place where every child from society has to go after early part of his childhood , to educate himself as per his varna.. that is nature. life then was a mix of ashram vyvastha(system ), varna Vyavastha( system) and targeted at achieveing four fold objective for every individual, artha ( money) Kam ( procreation) Dharm( path of knowing thyself) and moksha.

    Today there are no saints , no gurukul , no ashram vyvastha niether , there is rarity of guru s with divinity. how will a desciple find a guru.. i think he can only pray to ishwar in what ever form he feels associated with and wait for guru to come over to him.

    some examples.. ramkrishna paramhansa pursued vivekananada..
    lahiri mahsaya was called upon by his guru babaji..
    if you study the life of saints in past 1000 yrs a similiar trend is noted ..while desciple comes across his guru ..but faith in guru is established in desciple by gurus effort.

    the relation between guru is also called rinanubandh .. the relation of debt.

    that where you see krishna discourse of gita to arjun at battlefield makes sense , guru establishing faith in desciple..i think the statement of mathew from bible is also indicative of
    the effort by mathew ..

    in my personal opinion a desciple should question a true guru is capable of satisfying the desciple to his core not just by scriptural logic ..but by his divinity and knowledge of ishwar..

    guru is like mother … she looks for you ..even when you are not aware…

    om guruvey namah

    • Ambaa

      “guru is like mother … she looks for you ..even when you are not aware…” That’s beautiful.

  • Kamakshi

    Yes it is ABSOLUTELY necessary to have a qualified Acharya to guide you.
    When our ego and pride takes over we may start thinking oh I don’t need a Guru anymore because my mind can now comprehend the truth…But can it really? If we really understood the true nature of the self would we still be here? No… we would be free from the clutches of samsara.
    Having a spiritual guide in the form of a qualified Acharya (part of a proper vedic lineage) is not just helpful, but is EESSENTIAL on our journey.
    If we ignore the need for an Acharya and start practicing self interpretation of scriptures, we will start putting our own spin on things, rather than getting the proper knowledge from an Acharya who is learned in the scriptures.
    When we are children (and even as adults) we are guided by our parents, in school/university we are guided by our teachers, so then how can we not accept a spiritual teacher/Acharya to guide us through life?
    I understand that finding a Guru takes time, but eventually you have to move on from the past, push aside the ego, and eliminate the fear so that you can (as Krishnachandra put it) have access to all the nectar, rather than just licking the outside of the honey jar.
    Please have another read of this pdf file written by my Acharya to help you understand not only the importance, but the NEED of a qualified Acharya:
    http://yajurvedaustralasia-resources.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/NeedforanAcharya.pdf

    Wishing you all the best on your journey,
    Jai Sriman Narayana!


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