Is a Physical Guru Necessary?

By Rudra Shivananda

girl-praying-hands-pray-41192.jpegA question often asked by students on the path is whether it is necessary to have a physical Guru in order to achieve enlightenment. I’ll have to disappoint you by giving a less than categorical answer – that is, maybe yes, or maybe not. It is not easy for me to be impartial about this as I have been blessed with a physical Guru on my path and so it is necessary for me, at least. The reason that one cannot generalize from one’s own experience in this matter is because there have been many cases where sages have
achieved enlightenment without the aid of a physical Guru as we understand it.

Let us be clear from the start that from ancient times, the protocol to follow is that one does not call oneself a Guru – it is the students who choose to make someone a Guru and the proof of a Guru is that at least some of his students should be led to enlightenment… only when that has happened would a teacher truly be shown to be a Guru in fact as well as in name. Another point to be made is that there are so many teachers calling  themselves Gurus that these days (the last thousand years or so), a newer term of SatGuru has been coined to distinguish the teachers from the Master. Nowadays, the term guru has been applied to your dancing or computer instructor etc. and is no longer confined to a spiritual teacher or acharya.

One must also keep clearly in mind that there is a Guru Principle or Guru Tattva that is universal and eternal which guides all souls towards enlightenment. A teacher becomes a Guru to the extent that the Guru Principle is working within his consciousness to guide others towards enlightenment. This Guru Principle is part of the Divine, that part complementing the outwards principle of creation with the soul’s upstream journey back to its Source. Essentially, the Divine Goddessence is the ultimate Guru.

It is because the Divine is the ultimate Guru that there have been those who have relied on God/Goddess directly to achieve their liberation from the cycle of birth/death. How the Guru Principle works within the seeker’s life is extremely open-ended. In some cases,
a physical Guru appears at the appropriate time and guides the disciple towards his/her goal. In other cases, the seeker may come a across passage in a book that awakens his intellect to apprehend reality. The Divine can guide and awaken through a spoken word, a dance, a glance or nature’s ever-changing vista; through a friend, a parent, a stranger, one’s spouse or one’s enemy.

The Divine is creativity itself and can appear in myriad of ways and circumstances when the seeker is ready. The student has to be ever receptive and ready to accept the opportunity that is presented. Generally speaking, the seeker’s chosen path will also influence whether a physical Guru is necessary. If the spiritual student is on the path of devotion or Bhakti, there may be less need for a physical Guru as the seeker is trying
to forge a relationship directly and simply with the Divine. If someone is on the rigorous paths of Hatha Yoga or Kundalini Yoga, then a physical guide may be very necessary, as
the techniques are complex and proper instruction critical to success.

Then,there are all the paths in between with their shades of difficulty and requirements. For instance, if one is on the Mantra Yoga path, it is necessary to
have a Guru to initiate oneself into the proper mantras, but after initiation, the
mantras themselves will be the Guru to guide and bring the seeker towards enlightenment and so a prolonged relationship with the physical Guru is not necessary. However, in the case of Kundalini Yoga, because of the various awakenings and openings of channels and chakras with all the different physical, energetic, emotional and mental states involved, it may be necessary to keep in contact with the physical Guru
during the course of the process to ensure that no adverse reactions occur.

Above all else, since there has been so much mysticism built around the powers and role of the Guru, one should always be cognizant of one’s own common- sense and develop one’s mental discrimination to differentiate between the unreal and the real. If one’s goal is to achieve freedom, liberation and enlightenment, putting oneself in bondage to another person as some spiritual students have done may or may not be the right thing to do. In every case, one should balance one’s faith in the teachings and instructions of the Guru with one’s inner guidance from the Divine – this is indeed a Razor’s Edge as it is so easy to err on one side to abandon the Guru prematurely or be a devotee to a false teacher on the other.

Setting oneself on the right path with or without a physical Guru can be the most difficult achievement on the journey towards enlightenment. There is nobody who can decide for you. We can only pray, “May our karma be good to lead us towards our dharma in this
life. May the Divine Guru guide us in whatever manner is appropriate for us.”


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