[Advaita-l] Gurus

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Mon Sep 8 00:15:56 CDT 2003

[Was: RE: [Advaita-l] To Min]

On Wed, 3 Sep 2003, Min wrote:

> Dear Maria,
> Thanks for your advice. My understanding was that
> a seeker was supposed to have just one guru and
> that the guru be in person. Also, I understood
> that the guru finds the seeker, and not the other
> way around.
> But there are both ways, as Shankara sought out
> Gaudapada and Gaudapada sent him to Govinda. So,
> this makes my first statement wrong.

Ideally you should have a Guru who can personally guide you.  I have
grave misgivings about whether a person on the Internet could do that.
Lists like this are good to learn facts though.

Hinduism is a catch-all term for a number of different religions which
have varying views on the role of a guru.  The word itself simply means
teacher and is not restricted to a religious sense only.  For example,
dancers, musicians, indeed all who are educated in a master-apprentice
system, speak of their teacher as their Guru.  I think as the Advaita
tradition is one of the oldest, its' conception of Guruhood is closest to
this basic definition.  The gurus role is primarily that of teacher and
interpreter of sacred texts.

But both Hinduism and Buddhism came under Tantric influence and in the
Tantric way of thinking the role of the Guru is more of a giver of hidden
divine knowledge transmitted in the form of a mantra.  Without the Gurus
grace liberation is impossible whereas in the older way of thinking it is
merely difficult.  Variants of this theme developed during medieval times.
For instance in the Vaishnava Pushti Marga sect many of my friends belong
to, they believe only the blood descendents of Vallabhacharya, their
founder are capable of initiating members into their special mantra which
alone leads to the highest reward.  Probably influenced by Islam, the
Sikhs (whose name derives from shishya -- disciple) who had a lineage of
10 human gurus invested a holy book with the idea of Guruhood.  They call
it Guru Granth.

Advaita Vedanta was not immune to such developments but as I said it tends
towards less of the kind of cult of personality you see around the Gurus
of other sects.  An example is in the Jagadguru Shankaracharyas who are
the descendents of Shankaracharyas' 4 main disciples.  They lead by
example instead of fiat.  If their devotees ask for some advice on a
mantra or other spiritual practice they'll give it (if you've been
following the series on Saundarya lahiri, you'll notice Swami
Chandrashekharendra cautions strongly against using mantras without
initiation) but there is no set course or absolute requirements.  This is
a consequence of basic Advaita tenets.  Brahman is not something to attain
it is something you are and always were.  Therefore no God, Guru, or
scripture, can "give" it to you.  They are very important because they can
unlock the barriers that prevent you from knowing your true nature.  But
your own effort and understanding is the major requirement.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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