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Relevance of ancient Indian scriptures: The role of the Guru in Upanishads


The word ‘guru’ means heavy, in Sanskrit. It also means teacher. Heavy meaning, one who is more important, who has more understanding, who has more than you have, who, by virtue of his knowledge, is a heavyweight. That’s the meaning of the word guru. It also means one who destroys your ignorance.

Now, as you go into the Upanishads, you see students coming to the teacher. As is said, they come with fire in hand—the sacrificial fire—which symbolises the student’s readiness to sacrifice everything to learn. And, you also see in the Upanishads how the teachers receive the students. For instance, in the ‘Prashnopanishad’—one of the early Upanishads, when the three sons of great rishis are sent to a teacher to learn the knowledge of the truth, they approach the teacher and request him that they be taught the secret of the supreme brahman. Now, watch out what the teacher says, he doesn’t say, “Come lick my toes and I will give you the truth.” No. He doesn’t say, “Come wash my feet and drink the water, for you shall find the truth, or find the disease shed from the skin of my foot.” Nor does the teacher say, “What I say is the absolute truth. If you don’t believe it, you will go to hell!” No. What does the teacher say? The teacher says, “Well, live with me for three months, follow the rules of this place, learn, understand. Let us understand each other. At the end of three months, I shall teach you, if I know.” What greater humility than saying, “I shall teach you, if I know”? That’s the genuine picture of a teacher—a teacher who sits with you and guides you.

You exploit the guru and the guru exploits you. Where is the knowledge here?

So, I am not denying, especially when you start on a journey of such a large uncharted territory, which spiritual knowledge or knowledge of consciousness or the search for the truth is. I am not denying you might need some help from a teacher; but the moment the teacher becomes more important than the taught, well you are in trouble. Then, it becomes a kind of hero worship and, sometimes, if the teacher is unscrupulous, he could take advantage or there could be mutual exploitation. You exploit the guru and the guru exploits you. Where is the knowledge here?

Perhaps, you would need a teacher, unless you are already so intelligent that you discover the truth yourself, which is quite possible. I can give you one example of such a person—Ramana Maharishi. So, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be possible with others, but in general, by and large, it’s good to have a teacher. But, then again, the teacher should not become more important than the teaching.

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