Today is a religious holiday in India. It is called ‘Guru Purnima’, the full moon day of masters, celebrated as masters’ day. On this day disciples and followers go and worship their gurus.
I was once in this profession myself and on this day, there were always people who came to the Ashram when I was in India or who phoned or emailed to somehow get in touch with me on that day. I have left this profession far behind and question now what I believed in then.
The literal meaning of the word guru is teacher. If you use this meaning of the word, I have absolutely no problem with it. Anybody can be your guru, really anybody of whom you learn something. But with scripture and through this religious scene, the word ‘guru’ got a holy touch and that is where the whole hype started that we can see today, when the word ‘guru’ means God or even more than God.
In my eyes it turns wrong when a guru is not anymore only a person to learn from but someone whom you are supposed to worship. When people put pictures of the guru onto their altars and pray for them, when followers wash the feet of the guru and then drink the water, when gurus have their statues made and sell them and when scriptures tell people that they can only be liberated if they have a guru.
Obviously, such scriptures were written by those religious people who liked to be treated like Gods, who wanted to be Gurus. These people had a deep desire to get worshiped and I believe every guru who instructs his followers to act as described above, has this wish. Otherwise they would tell people not to do this.
I have however also seen gurus who give instructions to people not to worship them and who pretend to be humble but who in reality want to be worshiped – but don’t want to take responsibility for this.
Gurus work like God’s agents for those people who believe in scriptures that tell them this. They don’t only tell people that their service is the only way to reach God but they also take their commission for it, their fee. And the extra respect, worship, the power and the privilege to do anything without being questioned by their followers.
I actually have a problem with the words ‘followers’, ‘disciples’ or ‘devotees’. It seems to me that these words per se give much room for abuse of the relationship that should be there to a guru. The words show how much higher the guru is and how low the disciple, follower or devotee is. The guru has supreme power and can do what he wants. The devotee is not allowed to question anything. This is how it comes to it that the guru abuses his disciples and unfortunately there have been far too may such cases already.
So why not keep the original meaning of the word, stay simply with the sense ‘teacher’? And whoever wants to learn can simply be a ‘student’. Of course you give respect to your teacher but that can be any teacher, be that your spiritual teacher or your mathematics teacher.
So without all the unnecessary nonsense that now comes with it, I want to say that a guru is just a respectable teacher. And in this sense, a happy Guru Purnima to all those people I have learnt from in my life.