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Who's A Guru?

All About the Hindu Spiritual Teacher


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Subhamoy Das
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"Guru is Shiva sans his three eyes,


Vishnu sans his four arms
Brahma sans his four heads.
He is parama Shiva himself in human form"
~ Brahmanda Puran
Guru is the God, say the scriptures. Indeed, the 'guru' in Vedic tradition is looked upon as one no less than a God. 'Guru' is a honorific designation of a preceptor as
defined and explained variously in the scriptures and ancient literary works including epics.

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The English word 'guru' has its etymological origin in the Sanskrit term. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines it as "Hindu spiritual teacher or
head of religious sect; influential teacher; revered mentor".

More Real Than Gods


Aren't gurus more real than the gods? Basically the guru is a spiritual teacher leading the disciple on the path of "god-realization". In essence, the guru is considered a
respected person with saintly qualities who enlightens the mind of his disciple, an educator from whom one receives the initiatory mantra, and one who instructs in
rituals and religious ceremonies. The Vishnu Smriti and Manu Smriti regards the Acharya (teacher), along with the mother and the father as the most venerable gurus
of an individual. According to Deval Smriti there can be eleven kinds of gurus and according to Nama Chintamani ten. According to his functions he is categorized
as rishi, acharyam, upadhya, kulapati or mantravetta.

The Guru's Role


The Upanishads have profoundly underlined the role of the guru.
Mundak Upanishad says to realize the supreme godhead holding samidha grass in his hands one should surrender himself before the guru who knows the secrets
of Vedas. Kathopanishad too speaks of the guru as the preceptor who alone can guide the disciple on the spiritual path. Over time the guru's syllabus gradually
enlarged incorporating more secular and temporal subjects related to human endeavor and intellect. Apart from usual spiritual works his sphere of instruction now
included subjects like Dhanurvidya (archery), Arthashastra (economics) and even Natyashastra(dramatics) and Kamashastra (sexology). Such was the ingenuity of
the all pervading intellect of the ancientAcharyas that they perpetuated even shastra like thievery. Shudraka's celebrated play Mricchakatikam tells the story of
Acharya Kanakashakti who formulated the Chaurya Shastra, or the science of thievery, which was further developed by the gurus like Brahmanyadeva, Devavrata and
Bhaskarnandin.

From Hermitages to Universities


Gradually the institution of Gurukula or in-forest-hermitage, where disciples learnt at the feet of guru for long years was evolved. The great urban universities at
Takshashila, Vikramashila and Nalanda essentially evolved from these tiny gurukulas tucked away in deep woods. If we have to believe the records of Chinese
travellers who visited Nalanda at that time, there were more than 1,500 teachers teaching various subjects to more than 10,000 students and monks.

Legends of Gurus & Desciples


There were gurus as well as disciples of different hues to whom references were made in scriptures and literary works. The most popular legend is that of the amazing
young tribal boy Ekalavya on being rejected by the ace trainer Dronacharya, raised his statue and with great dedication practised the art of archery and left behind
Arjuna, the master archer, who actually learnt the art under the living guru. And the heartless guru asked for his thumb as gurudakshina or fees, and made him inferior
before his royal disciple. In the Chandogya Upanishad, we meet an aspiring disciple Satyakama, who refuses to tell lies about his caste in order to get an admission in
the gurukula of Acharya Haridrumat Gautam. And in the Mahabharata we come across Karna who did not bat an eyelid while telling Parashurama that he belonged to
the Bhrigu Brahmin caste just to obtain the Brahmastra, the supreme weapon.

Lasting Contribution
From generation to generation the institution of the guru has evolved various basic tenets of Indian culture and transmitted spiritual and fundamental knowledge.
Gurus formed the axis of ancient educational system and ancient society, and enriched various fields of learning and culture by their creative thinking. Herein lies the
lasting significance of gurus and their contribution to the upliftment of mankind.

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If you're new to this faith, here's where to begin. In this simple introduction to a complex religion, get your basic questions on Hinduism answered and
explained in brief.
What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is the world's oldest extant religion, with a billion followers, which makes it the world's third largest religion. Hinduism is a conglomeration of
religious, philosophical, and cultural ideas and practices that originated in India, characterized by the belief in reincarnation, one absolute being of
multiple manifestations, the law of cause and effect, following the path of righteousness, and the desire for liberation from the cycle of births and
deaths.

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Read More: How do you define Hinduism?


How is Hinduism unique from other religions?
Hinduism cannot be neatly slotted into any particular belief system. Unlike other religions, Hinduism is a way of life, a Dharma, that is, the law that
governs all action. It has its own beliefs, traditions, advanced system of ethics, meaningful rituals, philosophy and theology. The religious tradition of
Hinduism is solely responsible for the creation of such original concepts and practices as Yoga, Ayurveda, Vastu, Jyotish, Yajna, Puja, Tantra, Vedanta,
Karma, etc.
Read More: The Uniqueness of Hinduism
How and when did Hinduism originate?
Hinduism has its origins in such remote past that it cannot be traced to any one individual. Some scholars believe that Hinduism must have existed
even in circa 10000 B.C. and that the earliest of the Hindu scriptures The Rig Veda was composed well before 6500 B.C. The word "Hinduism" is
not to be found anywhere in the scriptures, and the term "Hindu" was introduced by foreigners who referred to people living across the River Indus or
Sindhu, in the north of India, around which the Vedic religion is believed to have originated.
Read More: Theories About the Origin of Hinduism
What are the basic tenets of Hinduism?
There is no one Hinduism, and so it lacks any unified system of beliefs and ideas. Hinduism is a conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions, in
which the prominent themes include:

Dharma (ethics and duties)

Samsara (rebirth)

Karma (right action)

Moksha (liberation from the cycle of Samsara)

It also believes in truth, honesty, non-violence, celibacy, cleanliness, contentment, prayers, austerity, perseverance, penance, and pious company.
Read More: The Main Tenets of Hinduism
What are the key Hindu scriptures?
The basic scriptures of Hinduism, which is collectively referred to as "Shastras", are essentially a collection of spiritual laws discovered by different
saints and sages at different points in its long history. The Two types of sacred writings comprise the Hindu scriptures: "Shruti" (heard) and "Smriti"
(memorized). They were passed on from generation to generation orally for centuries before they were written down mostly in the Sanskrit language.
The major and most popular Hindu texts include the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Read More: The Sacred Texts of the Hindus
What are the major Hindu deities?
Hinduism believes that there is only one supreme Absolute called "Brahman". However, it does not advocate the worship of any one particular deity.
The gods and goddesses of Hinduism amount to thousands or even millions, all representing the many aspects of Brahman. Therefore, this faith is
characterized by the multiplicity of deities. The most fundamental of Hindu deities is the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - creator, preserver and
destroyer respectively. Hindus also worship spirits, trees, animals and even planets.
Read More: Gods & Goddesses in Hinduism
Who is a Hindu and how to become one?
A Hindu is an individual who accepts and lives by the religious guidance of the Vedic scriptures. While the teachings of the Hindu tradition do not
require that you have a religious affiliation to Hinduism in order to receive its inner teachings, it can be very helpful to formally become a Hindu because
it provides one a formal connection to the world's oldest continually existing enlightenment tradition."
Read More: Who is a Hindu?
See Also: How to be an Ideal Hindu

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