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.
Guru means the imparter of knowledge (jñāna; also Pali: ñāna). It also 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.
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.
There are various aspects to the Supreme God Principle. These various aspects of God perform specific functions in the Universe. This is pretty much akin to the government of any country which has various departments to facilitate the smooth governing and functioning of the country as a whole.
Just as we have a department for education in a government, which facilitates teaching of modern sciences throughout the country, the aspect of God that looks after spiritual teaching and spiritual growth in the Universe is known as the Guru. This is known as the unseen or unmanifest (nirguṇ) Guru or the Teaching Principle of God. The unmanifest Guru pervades the entire Universe and is with us at all times during our life and even after we die. The salient and highlighting feature is that the unmanifest Guru stands by us throughout our life and slowly lifts us from our worldly life into a spiritual way of life. The Guru guides us according to our spiritual level, i.e. our capacity to imbibe knowledge whether we know it or not, helping us develop skills such as perseverance, dedication, attention to detail, tenacity, compassion etc. through our lives. All these kinds of skills are intrinsic to being a good seeker of God and are vital in sustaining our spiritual journey. For those who are proactively seeking spiritual growth the Guru is more active, guiding them in an unseen form according to what is needed for them.
Out of the entire population of the world, few take up spiritual practice that is universal and beyond the confines of formal, organised religion. Among these, very few people through their spiritual practice (regardless of their religion of birth) attain a spiritual level of over 70%. The unmanifest Guru then works completely through some of these evolved individuals who are then known as the manifest (saguṇ) Guru or the Guru in the human form. In other words, a person has to be at least of the 70% spiritual level to qualify as a spiritual guide or a Guru. The Guru in human form acts as a beacon of spiritual knowledge for humanity and is in total alignment with the Universal Mind and Intellect of God.
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).
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.