A spiritual seeker (sadhaka), once explained his difficulty graphically like this: “I couldn’t get acquainted with any shastras (scriptures) due to ill-luck and the vagaries of modern life. Now I realize that I made a mistake and desire to do sadhana. So I follow anyone who speaks about spirituality. After sometime, I develop full faith in him and accept him as my guru. But after sometime we come to know that he has eloped with a girl or is behind bars for some fraud. I have absolutely no idea whom to accept as my guru.”
What is the answer to this? One may say that a guru is not at all necessary; in other words, you are your own guru, therefore think for yourself, decide for yourself etc. Maybe the statement that you are your own guru is correct in some context with a different meaning altogether. But to pull this statement out of context and give it as an advice for anyone is far from correct. However intelligent one might be, the shastras cannot be studied without the guidance of a guru. This would invariably lead to a total misunderstanding of the shastras. The nature of God, knows as ‘Brahman' in Vedanta, is beyond the intellect (buddhi) and is certainly inaccessible for one who relies exclusively on his intellectual cleverness. A guru is absolutely necessary for self-realization and the shastras make this abundantly clear.
The Qualities of a Guru
But how is one to recognise the guru? Shastras describe him as one who is totally well-versed in the shastras and whose conduct is in accordance with them and also whose mind is continuously dwelling in Brahman. Obviously, he will be able to understand the difficulties of the disciples and clarify to them the meaning of the scriptures on the basis of logic and experience. He is totally unattached to worldly things, and not interested in fame and name. He lives in utter peace and is always in righteous conduct (sadachara). He is free from pride. He has full control over his mind and contended with what little he gets. His compassion is boundless. Unfortunately, in recent days, it is not easy to get such a guru. Some may say, “If your desire for moksha is very intense, you can surely meet with such a guru”. But all sadhakas do not agree with this. We can come across a large number of sadhakas who have abandoned everything and are on search for a guru in the remote caves of the Himalayas. They rarely get the ideal guru. Moreover, in the case of those householders who have some responsibilities in the world, it will not be possible to go anywhere and everywhere in search of a guru. They will have to search in their own neighbourhood only.
Whatever may be the level of the sadhaka, the guru chosen by him should be at least better than himself! Even though he may not have a good knowledge of the shastras and though he may be indulging in the normal activities of life, if he is a devotee of God doing satkarma always, he can be chosen as guru. Such a person will naturally have many good qualities. One can learn from him the methods of doing puja and also general guidance in life. But, one who is free from kama and krodha and is contended with the minimum requirements of life would be a better guru. Better still would be the one who is conversant with the Puranas and Itihasas (Ramayana and Mahabharata) and is having all the good qualities mentioned earlier. Such a person can clearly communicate the meaning of the shastras. Of course, if the ideal guru whose features have been enumerated in the beginning is available, then the sadhaka should immediately go and surrender to him. Such a guru should not be mistaken for an ordinary human being. He must be shown the same reverence as one would show to God.
The above discussion indicates that traditional conduct and devotion to God are the minimum requirements to be sought in a guru.When a person with higher qualities is available one can change his guru- though of course, the previous guru should continue to receive his respect and gratitude for all that one learnt from him. This would not be wrong. It is just like going to another teacher for higher education, after completing the education in a school.
A Note of Caution:
In this context, the shastras give a caution to the sadhaka. If an innocent person has chosen a wrong guru and later on when he comes to realise that he is egotistical or indulges in doing things according to his own fancies not caring for the rules of the shastras or he has immoral conduct, he has to be rejected immediately and unhesitatingly. It does not matter even if he is a good exponent of the shastras. On the other hand, continuing to stay with such a person certainly leads to irreparable loss later.
This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.
References & Further Reading:
- Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Foundations of Dharma: Bangalore 2008