by Dena Merriam
It was difficult to watch and remain silent as recent news in India has shown us how our popular culture and the media has come to use the word “ guru” with great frivolity, at the detriment to all of us. To reduce India’s great spiritual traditions by casting shadows on this word is a disservice to seekers everywhere. Even in spiritual circles, all too many today seek to become a guru. It would do us well to reflect on the meaning of the word and the responsibilities it entails. The root meaning of “guru” is to lead from darkness to light; in other words, one who has the ability to lead the student to full awakening to one’s true nature. A person may have spiritual attainment and still not have the ability to lead the student to self-realization. A guru is one who can take on the karma of a student if that will help the student advance; a feat not many are able or willing to undertake! The guru can even take on collective karma to relieve world suffering. The only goal of the guru is to awaken those still lost in pain and ignorance. There is no other motive – not building an institution, not amassing followers and a big bank account – there is no “I” left to desire any of it.
As long as there is any ego seeking to be adored, how can one be a true guru? As long as there is any action that strays from Dharma, how can one be a true guru? The best way to help society develop its discrimination is for the public voices, including the media, to distinguish through its choice of words as to who is the true guru, and who is rather a charismatic public figure, an entertainer, mind trainer, etc.
It is sad to see anyone take advantage of people’s material deprivations, their hopes and disappointments in life, but it is extremely important to clearly distinguish such figures from those who provide true spiritual guidance.
Let us not stand silently by when the word that has been applied to the greatest among us for millennia is now being so debased.