vande guru-paramparAm
Gems from the Ocean of Hindu Thought,
Vision and Practice:
Beach 6, Wave 2
Devotion to the Guru
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The most well-known Sanskrit verse on the concept of Guru is:
gurur-brahmA gurur-vishNuH gurur-devo maheSvaraH;
gurus-sAkshAt param brahma tasmai SrI gurave namaH.

This is itself a most profound statement. It says that the Guru is the Creator
BrahmA, the Protector VishNu and the Destroyer Siva. More, he is the Transcendental Absolute (= param brahma) itself. To that Guru we prostrate. Thus, the Guru is not just one of the Trinity, not even just all three of them. He is something beyond. Each one of them has just a specified function in the milieu of the Hindu mythology, Vedanta as well as orthodoxy. Any time you pray to one of them about your problems - they seem to help you only to a certain extent. Beyond that they transfer the blame on your past and pass the buck to your prArabdha or Fate and they always get away with it in all the anecdotes of the purANas. Each one of them says that there is a Supreme (Impersonal?) Absolute beyond them and it is He (or SHE or IT ?) that prescribes what should be and what should not be; they only carry out the Supreme Will! The fact that the Guru is equated to this param brahma places him beyond the Trinity.
The Absolute is actually something which transcends the three strands ( = guNas) of Prakriti, namely satva, rajas and tamas. The absolute is therefore guNAtIta, that is, that which transcends the three guNas. The Absolute is also rUpa-varjita, that is, devoid of form. It is such an absolute that has come as Gu-ru in flesh and blood -- Gu for guNAtIta and Ru for rUpa-varjita. This profound idea is what is implied by the following verse which is only one of the hundreds that dwell on the Guru concept.
gukAraSca guNAtIto rukAro rUpa-varjitaH;
gunAtItam arUpamca yat-tatvam sa guru-smRtaH.
meaning, the syllable Gu stands for gunAtIta and the syllable Ru stands for rUpa-varjitaH. The principle therefore that combines the transcedence beyond the guNas and the absence of form is what is known as Guru.
Guru is also known as AchArya and also as deSika. These have connotations of teacher, leader, role-model, preceptor, beacon-light. As AchArya he shows us the way to act not only by precept but by his own life and action. As deSika he prescribes the directions we should take to grow up in spirituality. The ideal Guru is all three - Guru, AchArya and deSika - put into one. One's father or mother cannot play this role effectively because they are bound to be inhibited by their own attachment. The intelligence which has been clouded by beginningless ageless ignorance can be sparked off only by the Guru. This is why all scriptures are very emphatic that one should seek out a Guru; otherwise one runs the risk of drawing conclusions about the Ultimate Truth which is beyond the capabilities of the intellect . yenedam sarvam vijAnAti tam kena vijAnIyAt - is a classical refrain from Chandogya-Upanishad. The one by which everything is cognized cannot itself be cognized.
March 8, 1999
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