November , 2018
Role of the Guru in the vedic and the modern age
16:34 pm

Dr. Ravindra Kumar, Mrs. Prerna Sharma

“गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्यात् शब्दस्तन्निरोधकः/अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात्गुरुरित्यभिधीयते//”

“Gushabdastvandhakaarah Syaat Rushabdstannirodhakah/

Andhkaaranirodhitvaat Gururityabhidhiiyate//”

Meaning thereby, “The syllable ‘Gu’ in Guru stands for darkness and ignorance –andhakara; the syllable ‘Ru’ signifies eradication of darkness or ignorance; thus, one who always has the ability to eradicate darkness and brings light into one’s life he should be called a Guru.” –The Advayataarakopanishad (16 –Aacharyalakshnam)

The Guru-Shishya tradition is an excellent, unique and a holy gift of India to the world. It is an ever significant and the most welfaristic concept of Indian philosophy and culture. It is dedicated to the development of human virtues on the basis of one’s intellect, knowledge and deeds and eventually to transform his personality as a duty-bound person leading a principled life.

In the Guru-Shishya tradition, the role and responsibility of a Guru are nuclei. In this word ‘Guru’, ‘Gu (गु)’, as is evident from the above-mentioned Shloka of the Advayataarakopanishad, reflects the darkness while ‘Ru (रु)’ reveals the act of eliminating the darkness –ignorance. Hence, in short, one who eliminates darkness –ignorance from one’s life and develops his virtues that he already possesses within and, thus, facilitating an all-round development of a being is entitled to be called a Guru.

The Upanishads – Aakhyanas of the Vedas are also known as the Vedanta and they are recognized as the best source of knowledge –treasure house by the leading philosophers, scholars and intellectuals around the world. The basic meaning of the Upanishad implies ‘sitting down near’, i.e., the Shishya sitting down near the ‘Guru’ in order to receive the highest knowledge to make his life worthy and purposeful under the Guru’s guidance and patronship to achieve the goal of life. For instance, Arjuna sat at the feet of Lord Krishna and Hanumana sat at the feet of Lord Rama to receive knowledge. It is, in fact, the essence of the Guru-Shishya tradition as well. A Guru is the giver here and the Shishya, the receiver.

From the implication viewpoint also it is evident that the Guru imparts knowledge successfully as a Brahmagyani Guru –a highly enlightened individual to his Shishya sitting nearby with the purpose of his own welfare and for the wellbeing of the whole of the world. To be a Brahmagyani –a highly enlightened, is a condition to be a ‘Guru’:   

विशारदं ब्रह्मनिष्ठं श्रोत्रियं गुरुकाश्रयेत्

“Vishaaradam Brahmanishtham Shotriyam Gurukaashyet/ –one who has the knowledge of the Shrutis (श्रुति) and is an expert in divine knowledge, capable of getting his Shishya realize the Satya –truth, to guide him to experience the reality, he is indeed a Guru.”      

The basis of the Shrutis (the Vedas etc., which were heard –attained as Jnana in a state of the Samadhi) is Shravana (heard) while Smarana (rememerance) is the nucleus of the Smritis (remembered knowledge–based upon memory). Both, the Shravana and Smarana are essential for a Shishya. In other words, they are the conditions for a Shishya to receive knowledge or wisdom. The Guru-Shishya tradition remained based on these two since time immemorial. These two are also the foremost bases of the whole of the Vedic Vangmaya –Scriptures.

The Guru-Shishya tradtion has plyaed a vital role not only in the realisation and development of the basic knowledge in all walks of life, but also in the development of all methods of aquiring it. The introduction of the Sanatana –eternal knowledge to the world is the most valuable, unprecedented and precious gift of the Guru-Shishya tradition. This unique and ever significant tradition also effectuated countless discoveries in various branches of science including space science, mathematics, and in various forms of art and literature.

The beginning of the Guru-Shishya tradition took off from mundane Laukik (worldly) knowledge and culminated into the Paralaukik Jnana (extramundane knowledge). Being master of knowledge was the acid test of a Shishya. Reaching the state of the Paramananda –attainment of the Ultimate or the Supreme Truth was the goal. Physical, moral and spiritual uplift of the Shishya was the responsibility of the Guru. Along with proper education of his Shishya, developing his virtues, as has been mentioned already, was the sole responsibility of the Guru. The Guru used to take the virtues of his disciple to their climax.

Disciple’s knowledge and its utility in his life and quality of imparted education according to its basic spirit entirely depend on a Guru. The Guru is at the centre of disciple’s knowledge and his education. The basic Indian scriptures are replete with the references of the dignity of the Guru and his importance in Shishya’s life. The Guru is equated with Ishwara –God. He paves the way to God. The qualities of a true Guru have also been defined in the Shastras. The Guru is expected to be completely free from ego. He should be wise –full of wisdom, fully capable of leading his disciple to the righteous path. In a state contrary to this he cannot be a true Guru:

“गुरोरप्यवलिप्तस्य कार्याकार्यमजानतः/ उत्पथं प्रतिपन्नस्य कार्यं भवति शासनम्//”

“Gurorapyavaliptasya Kaaryaakaaryamajaanatah/

Utpatham Pratipannasya Kaaryam Bhavati Shaasanam//” –The Ramayana (2:11:13)

Hence, the Guru-Shishya tradition has been since ancient times the basis of character-building of the Shishya. It remained a duty-bound process and the foremost deciding factor of all-round development of a disciple. Due to his being at the centre of this tradition, the Guru earned a high place in society; he was respected by one and all. Along with developing the virtues of his disciple, the Guru remained the real guiding force to groom his personality in all manner and was, thus, recognised as the builder of the society.

Even today a Guru is synonymous with somebody possessing the above mentioned qualities and his commitment towards discharging responsibilities with honesty and sincerity.

Today, we observe that a Guru has become a teacher while a Shishya emerges as a student. A teacher predominantly works for salary. A student pays fees to study in educational institutions at various levels according to the prescribed syllabi and eventually earns a certificate or a degree to get a job. Hence, relations between the two, a teacher and a student, have undergone a complete transformation to give and take like a business deal.

Due to this changed state the three important aspects of human life generally remain unaddressed; for want of sound physical character building and appropriate moral growth one remains, more or less, deprived of development of virtues he already possesses within. He stays behind in all-round progress of his personality. Resultantly, he not only lacks ethics and morality in life and becomes incapable of following discipline, but also becomes, more or less, incompetent in discharging responsibilities towards society, the nation and humanity as a whole further causing problems at all levels in all walks of life some of which put today a serious question mark on human existence on the Earth. This is, undoubtedly, a state wholly contradictory to the ancient, unique and all-welfaristic Guru-Shishya tradition of India. It also entirely differs in meaning, basic spirit and purpose of education, eventually dedicated to the all-round development of one’s being to becoming.

The distinctive Guru-Shishya tradition along with conti-nuously developing human virtues is dedicated to accord solutions to inevitable problems on the basis of the Sanatana – eternal points. It brings the knowledge on the ground of reality and calls for taking it to the peak. It expands one’s intellectual horizon in all dimensions while completely staying within the ambit of morality and ethics, and makes it all-welfaristic. Following the righteous path in life is the nucleus of the Guru-Shishya tradition. Bringing one out of the state of mental anarchy, which is the root cause of his taking the wrong path in life, it aids in his character-building. Developing self-confidence in him, it also incul-cates in him the spirit of dedication to serve the humanity for the wellbeing of one and all.

The current process of education could claim a number of achievements –progress in various branches of science, in the field of communication and technology, but it is a bitter truth that the level of morality and ethics in life has gone down rapidly. Resultantly, the spirit of discharging responsibility has severely depleted, which is grievous and a matter of serious concern. Now, we are only producing tools or human machines and not responsible citizens. Not only this, it is due to the decreasing spirit of discharging responsibility that even after converting the world swiftly into a global village, a number of serious challenges are being faced by us on Earth presenting before us a frightening picture of our future. In such a situation bringing teacher-student relations nearer to India’s ancient, distinctive and great Guru-Shishya tradition –making them conducive to it is the only solution. Having the pedagogical wisdom based on morality, developing the spirit of discharging responsibility in man, is desirable. It should be the goal of life. It is an all-timely, all-welfaristic and truth-based message of the Guru-Shishya tradition and also an urgent demand of time.


  Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a Former Vice Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut; he is also the Editor-in-Chief of Global Peace International Journal and Mrs. Prerna Sharma is the Joint Director of SRC Museum of Indology and Universal Institute of Orientology, Jaipur (India).


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