In India the concept of Guru is very deep-rooted, guru comes before God and is to be venerated so. In the “Golden ages” the gurus were great sages who dedicated their lives to meditation in their art or skill and gained immense knowledge of the universal truths that we now call ‘inner peace’.
So those were the gurus who had surpassed their material desires and were spiritually connected with the universe. The goal of the disciples then was to gain skills and knowledge from the guru. But even in those times, there were gurus who made mistakes like Dronacharya who asked a disciple of his to sacrifice his thumb for the sake of another disciple! We still celebrate him and nobody knows why. Although the formal education system has undergone tremendous change with the advent of the west, a lot of the Indian classical arts continue in the guru-shishya parampara (tradition).
What we have lost in the mainstream system of education is the freedom one had with time – a student could take as long as he or she wanted to study. They lived with the guru to learn how to live life as well, along with skills. The Upanishads and some of Adi Sankara’s teachings have verses dedicated to gurus – the dispellers of ignorance. Unfortunately or fortunately, this “godly” stature of gurus – who are now teachers in the modern system of school education, continues although they have hardly anything in common with the ancient gurus. Let alone learning life-skills from them, if a student learns the skill that s/he is supposed to learn, that itself would be a miracle!
That said, there are some great teachers even today, but none who can take the status of a ‘guru’. The Indian classical art forms continue calling the teachers of these arts as gurus, although what is imparted is a skill – dance, sing, play an instrument and so on. This skill-learning is fairly unorganized and the longer you stay as a guru, the greater the stature. Unfortunately in a lot of ways, the gurus become exploitative – favouritism to one’s children or affluent students is a common practice. Most students are victims of their egos or temper tantrums and most of these gurus dislike each other. They might be practicing the same art form, but to prove that “I am greater”, they will look down on another teacher’s style or students and so on! We must have heard that art is supposed to take us closer to God, a lot of these misconceptions will be clarified on meeting one of these so-called gurus! And yes, if these are the life-skills one wants to learn, then sure, there are plenty of them around.
Then the other brand is the ‘spiritual’ gurus. There are so many of them! They are all here to solve our problems, you chant their names and they will make you happy again. This is now an addiction for most of us – follow this spiritual leader or that, because we are all unhappy in some way or the other. But when has anyone truly made another happy? Never, and no one can, unless the other person chooses to be happy. And then one can be happy with anything, so there is no need of an external source. The Buddha never said pray to me or chant my name, s/he said, “Look within!”
In fact, becoming a spiritual guru is now considered a very lucrative profession and rightly so, because we all need crutches! When life seems disarray we want someone to tell us, “Everything will be fine!” And that no one around us can tell us, and even if they do we don’t trust them in that instance because they have no powers. We want someone from outside to come and solve our problems, to tell us that we are special or not, to tell us that things will be better. This video explains the irony in it:
It is also ironic that a man in orange robes is chosen to express this!
When will we let go of our need to ‘learn’ from someone else? Because the truth is no two experiences are the same, although they seem similar. What X gains or loses will be different from what Y gains or loses, but there might be similar elements in both. So how about we just share our experiences and let people choose for themselves? Let us also be humans and not suddenly acquire the status of, “I know more”, because everyone does know something more than someone else – so who is really a guru today in the human form?