These are the qualities that make up the model guru. Adi Sankara himself was a Guru of such standards. Every one who has come in the disciplic lineage from him has lived up to that standard, each in his own unique way. The biographies of each of the Sankaracharyas who have held the position of the pontiffs of the various Sankara Mutts, even up to the present time, are full of anecdotes which bear testimony to these characteristics of an ideal Guru.
Another aspect of Guru bhakti is the manner in which it differs and distinguishes itself from Isvara bhakti i.e., devotion to the Lord Almighty Himself. The Lord Almighty is inaccessible whereas a guru is accessible. We pray to the Lord but we generally have our own doubts whether our prayers have been heard. On the other hand a Guru listens to our prayer, reacts to them and brings us solace almost immediately. He may not solve our problems but the very fact he talks comfortingly to us is enough to bring us peace. The fatherly figure of a Guru is a great help this way for us to voice our woes and miseries and even our desires to rise up the ladder of material prosperity. When we make a mistake the Guru tells us in so many words and corrects us. The Lord, however, takes His own time to give us the reward or punishment - in confirmation of the legendary Tamil proverb : deivam nindRu kollum. Finally even as a subject of meditation the Guru scores over the Lord. Because, the Lord whom we have not seen, except in man-made pictures, sculptures and images, has to be imagined from head to foot or foot to head according to certain traditional descriptions. On the other hand the Guru, like one's own mother, comes to the mind in toto as a complete figure, not in bits and pieces that have to be put together.
The Sri Vaishnava tradition lays, in addition to all the above, an extra emphasis on the Guru. The process of surrender to the Lord in total abandon is the cornerstone of Sri Vaishnava philosophy. Traditon insists on six components in this process. The conviction that 'the Lord will protect me under all circumstances' is the first of them. Next is the determination to do only that which is favourable to the Lord and pleasing to Him. Next comes the avoidance of everything that is unfavourable or displeasing to the Lord. These three are conditions the fulfillment of which is the rsponsibility of the devotee. But there are three more conditions which are more difficult. They are:
1. The adoption of the Lord as the only protector;
2. Laying of one's entire self at the disposal of the Lord; and
3. The feeling of total triviality and nothingness vis-a-vis the Lord.
This is where the Guru's role becomes important. Whatever one may do, one's past karma and present obstacles to a spiritual pursuit come in the way of the spiritual advance one yearns for, in spite of the regularity of one's life and purity of conduct. One feels that something else other than one's knowledge, conduct and faith is necessary. We realise that even if we surrender to God we are not able to ingratiate ourselves into the Lord's favour. A Guru actually pleads for us with the Lord on our behalf. In fact there is a saying:
Sive rushte gurus-trAtA, gurau rushte na kaScana
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meaning, When the Lord is angered the Guru becomes the saviour but when the Guru is angered, nobody can save. We need the Guru for this role of his. The Guru enables us by precept and example to rid ourselves of the burden which we are unable to bear any more. This is technically called 'laying off the burden' - bhAra-nyAsa -in Sri Vaishnava jargon.
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March 25, 1999
Copyright V. Krishnamurthy
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