Who is a GURU


The word ‘guru’ is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘guru’ is a teacher or master. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root. 

The word ‘guru’ is derived by adding the suffix unam to the word gri, which means to praise, to sound, speak, or sing about. The word ‘guru’ is of the masculine gender and means heavy, weighty, great, large, long in length, long in duration, violent, vehement, intense, extended, eminent, difficult, hard, arduous, food that is heavy in the stomach, food that is hard to digest, haughty speech, proud speech, irresistible, unassailable, mighty, powerful, grievous, high in degree, important, momentous, serious, much, excessive, best, excellent, venerable, respectable, dear, beloved, valuable, highly prized, accented long as a foot or vowel, the long vowel, a sound equal to two simple sounds or matras, a vowel long by nature or position, a spiritual parent, a person from whom one receives the initiatory mantra or prayer, one who conducts the ceremonies necessary at various phases of youth and infancy, a person who bestows one with the sacred thread, religious preceptor, one who explains the law and religion to the student, a name of Brihaspati or the teacher of the gods or devas, a father or any venerable male relative, forefather, ancestor, father-in-law, any venerable or respectable person, an elderly person or relative, a lord, head, superintendent, ruler, chief, the author of a mantra, the head of the castes or orders, the planet Jupiter, the propounder of a new doctrine, the lunar asterism called pushya, another name of Dronacharya who was the teacher of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, another name of Prabhakara who was the propounder of a school of Mimamsa, the supreme spirit, Mucuna pruriens or velvet bean, name of a son of Samkriti, a honorific title of a teacher, pregnant, a pregnant woman, the wife of a teacher, and a son of Bhautya Manu.

Faith in the words of the guru has been emphasised as one of the basic prerequisites for a spiritual aspirant. Every student has to give a fee or guru-dakshina to the guru. According to some texts, the word ‘guru’ is made up of two parts, gu, darkness and ru, the light that dispels it. Thus, the meaning of the word ‘guru’ is held to be the dispeller of darkness.

In the Indian tradition, the guru is accorded a great place. The order of reverence traditionally accepted is that first, the mother has to be revered, then the father, then the guru, and it is only after these three that God has to be revered. Disobeying, duping, or otherwise disrespecting the guru has been severely looked down upon and the atonement sometimes is as harsh as giving up one’s life. Sometimes, a guru could also make the teaching ineffective if the disciple is found to be dishonest.

Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.


To read all articles by the Author


This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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