Guru In The New Age

In our information-rich culture, the role of the teacher shifts from someone who doles out knowledge to someone who may be able to help us steer a path through that information.
Keywords: Guru, Spiritual, Teacher, Information, Knowledge, Truth, reality, Dharma, Disciples, Insights, Perspectives, Mentor
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The figure of the Guru – Spiritual Guide, Master or Teacher has been greatly influential and remains somewhat controversial. Yet despite the prevailing mood of cynicism towards spiritual authority figures, which has pervaded even the lofty heights of the New Age community, people seeking spirituality (in whatever form) still seek out ‘teachers’, and there seems to be plenty of individuals who are still eager to be known as ‘teachers’. Some say that the very idea of having ‘magical teachers’ is redundant in the modern, information-rich age. I would argue that this is not the case, but that we perhaps need to re-evaluate our expectations of what teaching is about.

Teachers can be something more than ‘keepers of knowledge’. In our information-rich culture, the role of the teacher shifts from someone who doles out knowledge to someone who may be able to help us steer a path through that information – helping us to sort out what is relevant for us, and how to make it meaningful to our lives.

The term mentor derives from the Greek Odyssey, where the Mentor is the counselor of Telemachus, son of Odysseus. A mentor is someone who offers knowledge, insights or perspectives that are especially useful to the other person. For me, what characterises the core of the mentoring relationship, as opposed to the popular view of the Teacher or Guru, is that it is an intimate relationship, rather than a distant one. To be effective, the mentor must respect the uniqueness of the students/disciples, and seek to empower them by assisting in the development of their own abilities.

We can see the results of dysfunctional teaching when we meet some so-called disciples, who appear to be little more than mirror-reflections of their teachers, who lack independent voices and hold the world at bay with their belief-systems, which as someone has said, “act not even as crutches for the feeble, but broken legs for the incapable”. The tendency to teach spirituality to others in ‘cookbook recipe style,’ rather than encouraging individuals to twist techniques and theories, so as to make them relevant to their immediate life experience, is responsible for much of the blinkered, narrow thinking of many.

On the contrary, a teacher should reach out more to students who study on their own, so as to enable them to self-reliantly look for the truth. For those seeking the truth, there is perhaps no need to seek particular personalities. On the other hand, there is also no need to reject the truth simply because it may be taught by another human being.

For me, a true teacher is a free soul, and would very much like to see that all his disciples stand on their own feet, realize their divine nature, and solve their individual problems. If the disciples continue to cling to the guru’s personality and look up to him for help and guidance at every step, he must be feeling the drag and surely regretting his inability to make them attain that spiritual strength and freedom which he himself (or herself) enjoys. I feel he would rather have one free soul as his disciple than a multitude of them following him blindly.

Some of the best mentors in comparison are those, who view the mentoring process as a learning experience for themselves. The idea of ageless wisdom, passed down from the ages is an endearing one, but is inaccurate in a world of constant, accelerating change.

Mentoring requires both work and responsibility for both parties in the relationship. It is a partnership between Mentor and student, based on mutual respect. A quote that says – “communica​tion is only possible amongst equals.” Both Mentor and Student contribute and gain equally from the relationship.

If we turn to ancient, rather than contemporary views of the Guru there are many stories about Zen masters behaving in a way that is vastly different from the modern idea of the other-worldly saint. Here is a story that recounts the story of a Zen master, who met every one of his pupil’s questions with a blow from a heavy cane. Eventually, the pupil shouts “Enough!” and jumps up and snaps the cane, and then realises how unnecessary his slavish obedience to his master was.

While people should not (uncritically) put their faith in masters, this does not mean that spiritual development is entirely a solo affair. It is said that when a prince asked Matsyendranath the founder of the Nath Sampradaya (sect), who his Guru was, he pointed to the rocks and trees around his place of meditation – which I read as an indication that one’s own experience of life is the greatest Guru, rather than books or super-human, or distant authority-figures. As a broad generalisation, I believe that the primary task of the guru towards the aspirant is the awakening of the latent knowledge of divinity within – thus opening the way for the aspirant’s own, integral self-realisation.

Although it is recognised in the various Indian schools and systems that this awaken​ing to self-realisation may occur spontaneously, unmediated by any external source, it is acknowledged that such occurrences are rare. Further, it is generally accepted by most Hindu schools of thought that the liberating divine grace which flows from the prime source is not directly accessible to all. It requires a mediating factor which, on a human level is a Guru, acting as an agent of the divine will.

The aspirant is often encouraged to consider the guru as an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. The famous Sanskrit invocation, “Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu…….. (The Guru is Brahma (creator), he is Vishnu (the preserver) and he is also Maheshswara (Shiva- the truth). In him dwells the true Brahman (self). To that Guru I bow down” This does not however, imply a slavish obedience to the guru as it is so often perceived by many. If it did, Krishna would have just ordered Arjuna to fight and there would be need for the Bhagwad Gita, where he impresses upon Arjuna that his duty is to go to war, to uphold ‘Dharma’. Despite this Arjuna stands steadfast in his reluctance that Krishna is compelled to show him the ‘Viswaroop’ (The Splendid Manifestation); only then realisation dawns upon him.

It appears to me that one of the most unfortunate misunderstandings about spiritual life is that it should almost immediately bring peace to our minds and lives. In my view it is also a fallacy that peace is the only purpose of spiritual practice. Just the opposite may be true. The purpose of spiritual life as of now is conflict–a battle to the death with ignorance and ego. Only when we win that battle, then there is peace–everlasting peace. Until then it is a war. “Therefore you must fight,” Krishna told Arjuna. “Fight, and have no fear. The foe is yours to conquer.” The outcome of the battle is assured but until then it’s a terrible struggle. There is peace only in victory over fear, ignorance and ego .


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  • This article is the out come of versatile knowledge and greatly experience from the life of a leader who merely works for building the nation selflessly without looking into name, fame and power.
    I liked it very much. I convey my pranam to the writer of this article and the publisher as well for giving me the opportunity to go though in this website.

  • In a way spiritual. Practice does bring peace as it brings in clarity esp the need of dropping expectations to some extent and accepting the fact that in life, working on one’s ownself “through the self “is a journey to be undertaken … to be honest I learnt this fact from my Master
    I never knew there was something like working on one’s self so the journey begun!
    One in All to All l n one

Jishnu Dev Varma

Jishnu Dev Varma is the Deputy Chief Minister of Tripura.

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