For other uses, see Guru (disambiguation).
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Guru (Devanagari गुरु) is a Sanskrit term for "teacher" or "master", especially in Indian religions. The Hindu guru-shishya tradition is the oral tradition or religious doctrine or experiential wisdom transmitted from teacher to student. In the United States, the meaning of "guru" has been used to cover anyone who acquires followers, especially by exploiting their naiveté, due to the inflationary use of the term in new religious movements.
2 Guru in Hinduism
2.1 The guru-shishya tradition,
2.2 Assessing a disciple,
2.3 Classification of gurus,
2.4 Attributes of guru,
2.6 In modern Hinduism,
3 Guru in Buddhism,
4 Guru in Sikhism,
5 Succession and lineage (parampara),
6 Western perspective
6.1 Gurus in the "West",
7 See also,
9 Further reading
10 External links,
The syllable gu means shadows,
The syllable ru, he who disperses them,
Because of the power to disperse darkness,
the guru is thus named.
-- Advayataraka Upanishad 14--18, verse 5
The word guru, a noun, means "teacher" in Sanskrit and in other languages derived from or borrowing words from Sanskrit, such as Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Bengali, Gujarati and Nepali. The Malayalam term Acharyan or Asan are derived from the Sanskrit word Acharya. It is transliterated in different ways such as "Asaan", "Ashan", "Aasaan" etc.
As a noun the word means the imparter of knowledge (jñāna; also Pali: ñāna). As an adjective, it means 'heavy,' or 'weighty,' in the sense of "heavy with knowledge," heavy with spiritual wisdom, "heavy with spiritual weight," "heavy with the good qualities of scriptures and realization," or "heavy with a wealth of knowledge." The word has its roots in the Sanskrit gri (to invoke, or to praise), and may have a connection to the word gur, meaning 'to raise, lift up, or to make an effort'.
Sanskrit guru is cognate with Latin gravis 'heavy; grave, weighty, serious' and Greek βαρύς barus 'heavy'. All Proto-Indo-European root *gʷerə-, specifically from the zero-grade form *gʷr̥ə-.
A traditional etymology of the term "guru" is based on the interplay between darkness and light. The guru is seen as the one who "dispels the darkness of ignorance." In some texts it is described that the syllables gu (गु) and ru (रु) stand for darkness and light, respectively.
Reender Kranenborg disagrees, stating that darkness and light have nothing to do with the word guru. He describes this as a folk etymology.
Another etymology of the word "guru" found in the Guru Gita, includes gu as "beyond the qualities" and ru as "devoid of form", stating that "He who bestows that nature which transcend the qualities is said to be guru". The meanings of "gu" and "ru" can also be traced to the Sutras indicating concealment and its annulment.
In Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, Pierre Riffard makes a distinction between "occult" and "scientific" etymologies, citing as an example of the former the etymology of 'guru' in which the derivation is presented as gu ("darkness") and ru ('to push away'); the latter he exemplifies by "guru" with the meaning of 'heavy'.
Guru in Hinduism:
Further information: list of Hindu gurus
An article related to
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God and gender in Hinduism,
Concepts of life,
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Ethics of Hinduism,
Rulership in Hinduism,
Concepts of salvation,
Six Astika schools,
Uttara mimamsa (Vedanta) (Dvaita, Advaita, Vishishtadvaita),
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U. G. Krishnamurti,
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The importance of finding a guru who can impart transcendental knowledge (vidyā) is emphasised in Hinduism. One of the main Hindu texts, the Bhagavad Gita, is a dialogue between God in the form of Krishna and his friend Arjuna, a Kshatriya prince who accepts Krishna as his guru on the battlefield, prior to a large battle. Not only does this dialogue outline many of the ideals of Hinduism, but their relationship is considered an ideal one of Guru-Shishya. In the Gita, Krishna speaks to Arjuna of the importance of finding a guru:
Acquire the transcendental knowledge from a Self-realized master by humble reverence, by sincere inquiry, and by service. The wise ones who have realized the Truth will impart the Knowledge to you.
In the sentence mentioned above, guru is used more or less interchangeably with satguru (literally: true teacher), paratpar Guru and satpurusha. Compare also Swami. However, there is a marked difference between them in the spiritual context. The disciple of a guru is called a śiṣya or chela. Often a guru lives in an ashram or in a gurukula (the guru's household), together with his disciples. The lineage of a guru, spread by disciples who carry on the guru's message, is known as the guru parampara, or disciplic succession.
The role of the guru continues in the original sense of the word in such Hindu traditions as the Vedānta, yoga, tantra and bhakti schools. Indeed, it is now a standard part of Hinduism that a guru is one's spiritual guide on earth. In some more mystical traditions it is believed that the guru could awaken dormant spiritual knowledge within the pupil. The act of doing this is known as shaktipat.
In Hinduism, the guru is considered a respected person with saintly qualities who enlightens the mind of his or her disciple, an educator from whom one receives the initiatory mantra, and one who instructs in rituals and religious ceremonies. The Vishnu Smriti and Manu Smriti regard the teacher and the mother and father as the most venerable influences on an individual.
In Indian culture, a person without a guru or a teacher (acharya) was once looked down on as an orphan or unfortunate one. The word anatha in Sanskrit means "the one without a teacher." An acharya is the giver of gyan (knowledge) in the form of shiksha (instruction). A guru also gives diksha initiation which is the spiritual awakening of the disciple by the grace of the guru. Diksha is also considered to be the procedure of bestowing the divine powers of a guru upon the disciple, through which the disciple progresses continuously along the path to divinity.
The concept of the "guru" can be traced as far back as the early Upanishads, where the idea of the Divine Teacher on earth first manifested from its early Brahmin associations.
The guru-shishya tradition:
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guru-shishya_tradition
The guru-shishya tradition is the transmission of teachings from a guru (teacher, गुरू) to a 'śiṣya' (disciple, शिष्य). In this relationship, subtle and advanced knowledge is conveyed and received through the student's respect, commitment, devotion and obedience. The student eventually masters the knowledge that the guru embodies.
The dialogue between guru and disciple is a fundamental component of Hinduism, established in the oral traditions of the Upanishads (c. 2000 BC). The term Upanishad derives from the Sanskrit words upa (near), ni (down) and şad (to sit) -- "sitting down near" a spiritual teacher to receive instruction. Examples include the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahabharata (Bhagavad Gita), and between Rama and Hanuman in the Ramayana. In the Upanishads, the guru-disciple relationship appears in many settings (a husband answers a wife's questions about immortality; a teenage boy is taught by Yama, who is Death personified, etc.) Sometimes the sages are female, and sometimes the instruction is sought by kings.
In the Vedas, the brahmavidya or knowledge of Brahman is communicated from guru to shishya orally.
The word Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit shishya.
Assessing a disciple:
At the beginning of the Upadesasahasri Samkara provides a list of criteria by which the guru assesses prospective disciples. It is clear that Samkara did not regard the examination of candidates as a mere formality. The guru assesses the applicant using the following criteria: the candidate is not attached to anything impermanent; he has renounced the desire for a son; he has no desire for wealth; he is at peace with himself, master of his senses and compassionate. In addition, the guru checks the applicant's caste, behaviour, knowledge of Veda and even earlier generations of his family.
Knowledge was not regarded as a universal right, as it often is today. Access to knowledge via the guru was the privilege of a very small minority. It was the norm to transmit knowledge in the erudite language of Sanskrit without translation. Mastery of Sanskrit was therefore essential. What was taught by guru was the universal reality of Brahman, but access to this knowledge was highly restricted. Ultimate knowledge was founded on the Veda, and the guru followed the instruction of the texts: no one belonging to the sudra caste was allowed access. Women and foreigners were also excluded.
Classification of gurus:
In his book about neo-Hindu movements in (for example Wilmer) the Netherlands, Kranenborg distinguishes four types of gurus in India:
the spiritual advisor for higher caste Hindus who also performs traditional rituals and who is not connected to a temple (thus not a priest);,
the enlightened master who derives his authority from his experience, such as achieving enlightenment. This type appears in bhakti movements and in tantra and asks for unquestioning obedience, and can have Western followers. Westerners can even become one, as have, for example Andrew Cohen, and Isaac Shapiro.,
the Avatar, a guru who considers himself to be an incarnation of God, God-like, or an instrument of God, or who is considered as such by others.,
A "guru" in the form of a book i.e. the Guru Granth Sahib in the Sikh religion;,
Attributes of guru:
Gurus of several Hindu denominations are often referred to as Satgurus.
In the Upanishads, five signs of satguru (true guru) are mentioned.
In the presence of the satguru; Knowledge flourishes (Gyana raksha); Sorrow diminishes (Dukha kshaya); Joy wells up without any reason (Sukha aavirbhava); Abundance dawns (Samriddhi); All talents manifest (Sarva samvardhan).
According to the Indologist Georg Feuerstein, the preceptors were traditionally treated with great reverence, granted excessive authority, and identified with the transcendental Reality. He writes that partly to counterbalance this deification, some Hindu schools began to emphasize that the real teacher is the transcendental Self.
The Shiva Samhita, a late medieval text on Hatha yoga, enshrines the figure of the guru as essential for liberation, and asserts that the disciple should give all his or her property and livestock to the guru upon diksha (initiation).
The Vishnu Smriti and Manu Smriti regard the Acharya (teacher/guru), along with the mother and the father, as the most venerable individuals. The mother and father are the first "guru," the spiritual guru is the second.
The Mundaka Upanishad says that in order to realize the supreme godhead, one should surrender one's self before the guru who knows the secrets of the Vedas.
On the role of the guru, Swami Sivananda asks: "Do you realize now the sacred significance and the supreme importance of the Guru's role in the evolution of man? It was not without reason that the India of the past carefully tended and kept alive the lamp of Guru-Tattva. It is therefore not without reason that India, year after year, age after age, commemorates anew this ancient concept of the Guru, adores it and pays homage to it again and again, and thereby re-affirms its belief and allegiance to it. For, the true Indian knows that the Guru is the only guarantee for the individual to transcend the bondage of sorrow and death, and experience the Consciousness of the Reality."
Some scriptures and gurus have warned against false teachers, and have recommended that the spiritual seeker test the guru before accepting him. Some have given criteria on how to distinguish false from genuine ones:
The Advaya Taraka Upanishad states that the true teacher is well-versed in the Vedas, is a devotee of Vishnu, is free from envy, knows yoga and is intent upon it, and always has the nature of yoga. Also that a person who is equipped with devotion to the teacher, has knowledge of the Self and possesses the above characteristics may be designated as a guru.,
The Maitrayaniya Upanishad warns against false teachers who may deceive the naive.,
The Kula-Arnava-Tantra states that there are many gurus who may rob the disciple's wealth but few who can remove the disciple's afflictions.,
Swami Vivekananda said that there are many incompetent gurus, and that a true guru should understand the spirit of the scriptures, have a pure character and be free from sin, and should be selfless, without desire for money and fame.,
Mirinalini Mata, a direct disciple of Yogananda, said that a true guru should be humble (Self-Realization Fellowship 1978, Cassette No 2402),
Sathya Sai Baba said in a discourse (Sathya Sai Speaks, vol I, p. 197) that the hunt for rich disciples who can be fleeced has become a tragicomedy, and said in the booklet Sandeha Nivarini that the seeker should test the guru by assessing whether his words are full of wisdom, and whether he puts into practice what he preaches.,
Saibaba The Master by Acharya Ekkirala Bharadwaja an in depth study of Shirdi Sai as a guru insists that one must follow the way of reading life histories of saints and it is the saints which will show us the correct guru when we are ready and capable of serving a guru. In Sufi-ism which revolves around Aulias(Saints), a disciple prays a Sufi-saint at his tomb, until the saint appears in a dream to the disciple and shows him the correct and living guru to go and serve. This is claimed as the Most secure way of entering a Guru-Shishya Parampara. Guru Charitra by Acharya Ekkirala Bharadwaja explains it in more detail.,
Guru Purnima is the day when the disciple wakes up and expresses gratitude. The purpose of the Guru Purnima (or Poornima) celebration is to review the preceding year to see how much one has progressed in life, to renew one's determination, and to focus on one's progress on the spiritual path.
Guru Puja (literally "worship of the guru") the practice of worshiping the guru through the making of offerings and requesting inspiration from the guru. Vows and commitments made by the disciple or shishya, which might have lost their strength, are renewed.
Guru Bhakti (literally "devotion to the guru") is considered important in many schools and sects.
In modern Hinduism:
See also: Contemporary Hindu movements
This section possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research may be removed. (July 2009)
Some Hindu denominations like BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha hold that a personal relationship with a living guru, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential in seeking moksha. The guru is the one who guides his or her disciple to become jivanmukta, the liberated soul able to achieve salvation in his or her lifetime.
There is an understanding in some forms of Hinduism that if the devotee were presented with the guru and God, first he would pay respect to the guru, since the guru had been instrumental in leading him to God. Some traditions claim "Guru, God and Self" (Self meaning soul, not personality) are one and the same. Saints and poets in India have expressed the following views about the relationship between Guru and God:
Best known representatives include Pramukh Swami Maharaj, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation), Sai Baba, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Balyogeshwar (also known as "Guru Maharaj Ji", "Maharaji", and "Prem Rawat") (Divine Light Mission), and Rajneesh (Sannyasis).
Guru in Buddhism:
Part of a series on
Four Noble Truths,
Buddhist Paths to liberation,
Aids to Enlightenment,
In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the teacher is a valued and honoured mentor worthy of great respect and is a source of inspiration on the path to Enlightenment, however the teacher is not generally considered to be a guru but rather a spiritual friend or Kalyāṇa-mittatā.
In the Tibetan tradition, the guru is seen as the Buddha, the very root of spiritual realization and the basis of the path. Without the teacher, it is asserted, there can be no experience or insight. In Tibetan texts, great emphasis is placed upon praising the virtues of the guru. Blessed by the guru, whom the disciple regards as a Bodhisattva, or the embodiment of Buddha, the disciple can continue on the way to experiencing the true nature of reality. The disciple shows great appreciation and devotion for the guru, whose blessing is the last of the four foundations of Vajrayana Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama, speaking of the importance of the guru, said: "Rely on the teachings to evaluate a guru: Do not have blind faith, but also no blind criticism." He also observed that the term 'living Buddha' is a translation of the Chinese words huo fuo. In Tibetan, he said, the operative word is lama which means 'guru'. A guru is someone who is not necessarily a Buddha, but is heavy with knowledge.
Tantric teachings include the practice of guru yoga, visualizing the guru and making offerings praising the guru. The guru is known as the vajraguru (literally "diamond guru"). Initiations or ritual empowerments are necessary before the student is permitted to practise a particular tantra. The guru does not perform initiation as an individual, but as the person's own Buddha-nature reflected in the personality of the guru. The disciple is asked to make samaya or vows and commitments which preserve the spiritual link to the guru, and is told that to break this link is a serious downfall.
There are Four Kinds of Lama (Guru) or spiritual teacher (Tib. lama nampa shyi) in Tibetan Buddhism:
gangzak gyüpé lama -- the individual teacher who is the holder of the lineage,
gyalwa ka yi lama -- the teacher which is the word of the buddhas,
nangwa da yi lama -- the symbolic teacher of all appearances,
rigpa dön gyi lama -- the absolute teacher, which is rigpa, the true nature of mind,
See also: Tibetan Buddhism
Guru in Sikhism:
This article is part of, a series on Sikhism
Guru Amar Das,
Guru Ram Das,
Guru Har Gobind,
Guru Har Rai,
Guru Har Krishan,
Guru Tegh Bahadur,
Guru Gobind Singh,
Guru Granth Sahib,
Guru Maneyo Granth,
Sikh Rehat Maryada,
The Five Ks,
Guru Granth Sahib,
See also: Sikhism
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikh_Gurus
The Sikh Gurus were fundamental to the Sikh religion, however the concept in Sikhism differs from other usages.
Sikhism is derived from the Sanskrit word shishya, or disciple and is all about the relationship between the teacher and a student. The core beliefs of Sikhism are of belief in the One God and in Ten Gurus, enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. The concept of Guru in Sikhism stands on two pillars i.e. Miri-Piri. 'Piri' means spiritual authority and 'Miri' means temporal authority. Therefore, Guru in Sikhism is a teacher-leader. Traditionally, the spiritual authority in Sikhism has always been the word and which is still preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib. And for temporal authority, as the word passed through 10 mortal bodies and finally into the collective corporate body known as the Khalsa till eternity, kept changing with finally been vested in the Khalsa when Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru, merged into it.
Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru of Sikhism, was opposed to the caste system prevalent in India in his time, and he accepted Hindus, Muslims and people from other religions as disciples. His followers referred to him as the Guru (teacher). Before he left the world he designated a new Guru to be his successor and to lead the Sikh community. This procedure was continued till March 30, 1699. In addition to the original ten teachers, the Guru Granth Sahib, their holy book, and the Khalsa was made the eleventh perpetual Guru of the Sikhs. Together they make up the eleven Gurus of Sikhism.
Date of birth
Date of ascension
15 April 1469
20 August 1507
22 September 1539
31 March 1504
7 September 1539
29 March 1552
Guru Amar Das
5 May 1479
26 March 1552
1 September 1574
Guru Ram Das
24 September 1534
1 September 1574
1 September 1581
15 April 1563
1 September 1581
30 May 1606
Guru Har Gobind
19 June 1595
25 May 1606
28 February 1644
Guru Har Rai
16 January 1630
3 March 1644
6 October 1661
Guru Har Krishan
7 July 1656
6 October 1661
30 March 1664
Guru Tegh Bahadur
1 April 1621
20 March 1665
11 November 1675
Guru Gobind Singh
22 December 1666
11 November 1675
7 October 1708
Guru Granth Sahib
7 October 1708
Succession and lineage (parampara):
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parampara
See also: Guru-shishya tradition and Gurukula
The word parampara (Sanskrit परम्परा) denotes a long succession of teachers and disciples in traditional Indian culture. The Hinduism Dictionary defines parampara is "the line of spiritual gurus in authentic succession of initiation; the chain of mystical power and authorized continuity, passed from guru to guru." In Sanskrit, the word literally means: Uninterrupted series of succession.
The Guru (teacher) Shishya (disciple) parampara or guru parampara, occurs where the knowledge (in any field) is passed down undiluted through the succeeding generations. It is the traditional, residential form of education, where the Shishya remains and learns with his Guru as a family member. The domains may include spiritual, artistic (Kalā कला such as music or dance) or educational.
David C. Lane, a professor of sociology, and, since 2005, an ex-member and critic of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, argued in 1997 that based on his research of the Radha Soami movement that few gurus have a flawless and well-documented lineage, and that there is quite often conflict between different disciples claiming to be the only legitimate successor of their guru.
As an alternative to established religions, some people in Europe and the USA who were not of Indian extraction have looked up to spiritual guides and gurus from India, seeking them to provide them answers to the meaning of life, and to achieve a more direct experience free from intellectualism and philosophy. Gurus from many denominations traveled to Western Europe and the USA and established followings. One of the first to do so was Swami Vivekananda who addressed the World Parliament of Religions assembled in Chicago, Illinois in 1893.
In particular during the 1960s and 1970s many gurus acquired groups of young followers in Western Europe and the USA. According to the American sociologist David G. Bromley this was partially due to the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1965 which permitted Asian gurus entrance to the USA. According to the Dutch Indologist Albertina Nugteren, the repeal was only one of several factors and a minor one compared with the two most important causes for the surge of all things 'Eastern': the post-war cross-cultural mobility and the general dissatisfaction with established Western values. According to the professor in sociology Stephen A. Kent at the University of Alberta and Kranenborg (1974), one of the reasons why in 1970s young people including hippies turned to gurus was because they found that drugs had opened for them the existence of the transcendental or because they wanted to get high without drugs. According to Kent, another reason why this happened so often in the USA then, was because some anti-Vietnam War protesters and political activists became worn out or disillusioned of the possibilities to change society through political means, and as an alternative turned to religious means. Some gurus and the groups they lead attracted opposition. One example of such group was the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1966, many of whose followers voluntarily accepted the demandingly ascetic lifestyle of bhakti yoga on a full-time basis, in stark contrast to much of the popular culture of the time.
According to Kranenborg (1984), Jesus Christ fits the Hindu definition and characteristics of a guru.
Gurus in the "West":
Gurus who established a discipleship or who are/were spiritual leaders of notable organizations in "Western" countries include:
Vishwaguru Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda also known as "Swamiji", founder of Yoga in Daily Life,
"Amma" Mata Amritanandamayi Devi Parliament of the World's Religions, International Advisory Committee Member,
Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama,
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche a lama (Tibetan Buddhist religious teacher).,
Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo the first western woman to be recognized and enthroned as a tulku in Tibetan Buddhism.,
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), brought his message to the West in 1959.,
Meher Baba, who stated that he was the Avatar of the Age and God in human form, traveled to the west numerous times in the 1930s and 1950s and had many western followers.,
Nirmala Srivastava founder of Sahaja Yoga in 1970, lived in the United Kingdom for many years and then after in Italy and India.,
Swami Muktananda, founder of Siddha Yoga path and the SYDA Foundation.,
Neem Karoli Baba Also known as Maharaj-ji. After Ram Dass' experience in the 1960s in India with Maharaj-ji, he introduced Westerners to Neem Karoli Baba in his book "Be Here Now",
Paramahansa Yogananda settled in the USA and wrote the book Autobiography of a Yogi,
Swami Guru Devanand Saraswati Ji Maharaj, founder of International Society Of Divine Realization,
A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (the 'Hare Krishnas') in New York in 1965, an organization following the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism.,
Prem Rawat was known as Guru Maharaj Ji until he dropped the title "guru" from his name in 1980.,
Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) settled temporarily in the USA.,
Sathya Sai Baba never went to Europe or the USA but acquired a substantial number of followers there.,
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev founder of Isha Foundation and the Isha Yoga Centre has a strong volunteer force in India, US and Lebanon.,
Sant Sri Asaramji Bapu founder of Sri Yog Vedanta Sewa Samithi.,
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar founder of the Art of Living Foundation.,
Ruchira Adi Da Samraj Born in the US founded the new Tradition of Adidam, based on Guru Devotee Relationship,
Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was a revered Sufi saint from the island of Sri Lanka who shared his knowledge and experience with people of every race and religion and from all parts of the world.,
Reginald Ray, vajracarya of Dharmaocean, senior student of Chögyam Trungpa,
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001), founder of the Kauai Aadheenam and of the Hinduism Today Magazine.,
Sirio Carrapa, one of the successors of Kirpal Singh and Ajaib Singh (Sant Mat tradition).,
Shri Gurudev Amritji - Yogi Amrit Desai Founder of Kripalu Center and of Amrit Yoga Institute.,
Sri Sri Sri Ganapathy Sachidananda Swamiji Founder of Datta peetam has many followers around the world.,
yogiraj maharaj paithankar is 14th descendant of sant eknath maharaj,
Gurus and the Guru-shishya tradition have been criticized and assessed by secular scholars, theologians, anti-cultists, skeptics, and religious philosophers.
Jiddu Krishnamurti, groomed to be a world spiritual teacher by the leadership of the Theosophical Society in the early part of the 20th century, publicly renounced this role in 1929 while also denouncing the concept of gurus, spiritual leaders, and teachers, advocating instead the unmediated and direct investigation of reality.,
U. G. Krishnamurti, no relation to Jiddu, sometimes characterized as a "spiritual anarchist", denied both the value of gurus and the existence of any related worthwhile "teaching".,
Dr. David C. Lane proposes a checklist consisting of seven points to assess gurus in his book, Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical. One of his points is that spiritual teachers should have high standards of moral conduct and that followers of gurus should interpret the behavior of a spiritual teacher by following Ockham's razor and by using common sense, and, should not naively use mystical explanations unnecessarily to explain immoral behavior. Another point Lane makes is that the bigger the claim a guru makes, such as the claim to be God, the bigger the chance is that the guru is unreliable. Dr. Lane's fifth point is that self-proclaimed gurus are likely to be more unreliable than gurus with a legitimate lineage.,
Highlighting what he sees as the difficulty in understanding the guru from Eastern tradition in Western society, Dr. Georg Feuerstein, a well-known German-American Indologist, writes in the article Understanding the Guru from his book The Deeper Dimension of Yoga: Theory and practice:"The traditional role of the guru, or spiritual teacher, is not widely understood in the West, even by those professing to practice Yoga or some other Eastern tradition entailing discipleship. ... Spiritual teachers, by their very nature, swim against the stream of conventional values and pursuits. They are not interested in acquiring and accumulating material wealth or in competing in the marketplace, or in pleasing egos. They are not even about morality. Typically, their message is of a radical nature, asking that we live consciously, inspect our motives, transcend our egoic passions, overcome our intellectual blindness, live peacefully with our fellow humans, and, finally, realize the deepest core of human nature, the Spirit. For those wishing to devote their time and energy to the pursuit of conventional life, this kind of message is revolutionary, subversive, and profoundly disturbing.". In his Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga (1990), Dr. Feuerstein writes that the importation of yoga to the West has raised questions as to the appropriateness of spiritual discipleship and the legitimacy of spiritual authority.,
A British professor of psychiatry, Anthony Storr, states in his book, Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus, that he confines the word guru (translated by him as "revered teacher") to persons who have "special knowledge" who tell, referring to their special knowledge, how other people should lead their lives. He argues that gurus share common character traits (e.g. being loners) and that some suffer from a mild form of schizophrenia. He argues that gurus who are authoritarian, paranoid, eloquent, or who interfere in the private lives of their followers are the ones who are more likely to be unreliable and dangerous. Storr also refers to Eileen Barker's checklist to recognize false gurus. He contends that some so-called gurus claim special spiritual insights based on personal revelation, offering new ways of spiritual development and paths to salvation. Storr's criticism of gurus includes the possible risk that a guru may exploit his or her followers due to the authority that he or she may have over them, though Storr does acknowledge the existence of morally superior teachers who refrain from doing so. He holds the view that the idiosyncratic belief systems that some gurus promote were developed during a period of psychosis to make sense of their own minds and perceptions, and that these belief systems persist after the psychosis has gone. Storr applies the term "guru" to figures as diverse as Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Gurdjieff, Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Jim Jones and David Koresh. The Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst criticized Storr's book for its avoidance of the term prophet instead of guru for several people. Elst asserts that this is possibly due to Storr's pro-Western, pro-Christian cultural bias.,
Rob Preece, a psychotherapist and a practicing Buddhist, writes in The Noble Imperfection that while the teacher/disciple relationship can be an invaluable and fruitful experience, the process of relating to spiritual teachers also has its hazards. He writes that these potential hazards are the result of naiveté amongst Westerners as to the nature of the guru/devotee relationship, as well as a consequence of a lack of understanding on the part of Eastern teachers as to the nature of Western psychology. Preece introduces the notion of transference to explain the manner in which the guru/disciple relationship develops from a more Western psychological perspective. He writes: "In its simplest sense transference occurs when unconsciously a person endows another with an attribute that actually is projected from within themselves." In developing this concept, Preece writes that, when we transfer an inner quality onto another person, we may be giving that person a power over us as a consequence of the projection, carrying the potential for great insight and inspiration, but also the potential for great danger: "In giving this power over to someone else they have a certain hold and influence over us it is hard to resist, while we become enthralled or spellbound by the power of the archetype".,
According to a professor of religious studies at Dawson College in Quebec, Susan J. Palmer, the word guru has acquired very negative connotations in France.,
The psychiatrist Alexander Deutsch performed a long-term observation of a small cult, called The Family (not to be confused with Family International), founded by an American guru called Baba or Jeff in New York in 1972, who showed increasingly schizophrenic behavior. Deutsch observed that this man's mostly Jewish followers interpreted the guru's pathological mood swings as expressions of different Hindu deities and interpreted his behavior as holy madness, and his cruel deeds as punishments that they had earned. After the guru dissolved the cult in 1976, his mental condition was confirmed by Jeff's retrospective accounts to an author.,
Jan van der Lans (1933-2002), a professor of the psychology of religion at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, wrote, in a book commissioned by the Netherlands based Catholic Study Center for Mental Health, about followers of gurus and the potential dangers that exist when personal contact between the guru and the disciple is absent, such as an increased chance of idealization of the guru by the student (myth making and deification), and an increase of the chance of false mysticism. He further argues that the deification of a guru is a traditional element of Eastern spirituality, but, when detached from the Eastern cultural element and copied by Westerners, the distinction between the person who is the guru and that which he symbolizes is often lost, resulting in the relationship between the guru and disciple degenerating into a boundless, uncritical personality cult.,
In their 1993 book, The Guru Papers, authors Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer reject the guru-disciple tradition because of what they see as its structural defects. These defects include the authoritarian control of the guru over the disciple, which is in their view increased by the guru's encouragement of surrender to him. Alstad and Kramer assert that gurus are likely to be hypocrites because, in order to attract and maintain followers, gurus must present themselves as purer than and superior to ordinary people and other gurus.,
According to the journalist Sacha Kester, in a 2003 article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, finding a guru is a precarious matter, pointing to the many holy men in India and the case of Sathya Sai Baba whom Kester considers a swindler. In this article he also quotes the book Karma Cola describing that in this book a German economist tells author Gita Mehta, "It is my opinion that quality control has to be introduced for gurus. Many of my friends have become crazy in India". She describes a comment by Suranya Chakraverti who said that some Westerners do not believe in spirituality and ridicule a true guru. Other westerners, Chakraverti said, on the other hand believe in spirituality but tend to put faith in a guru who is a swindler.
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