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Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Guru

Guru Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Guru

In my last article, we saw how Lord Krishna began addressing Arjuna’s concerns. I also mentioned that we will see what was Arjuna’s response and Lord Krishna’s opinion of Karma yoga. Instead, I am going to get in to a topic that I consider as very important and it is the source of much controversy these days.

During the long exchange of comments with Mahesh Kalaal in my previous article, he asked “Who is Qualified? Who is Spiritual? Who is master?” His questions are the same ones that haunt every neophyte spiritualist. And in general there seems to be this idea that when it comes to spirituality, anything and everything goes and it is based on one’s convenience and whim.

These factors show up in some of the arguments many people against accepting a Spiritual Master. It seems like accepting someone as superior is anathema to their self-respect and, if I may add, self-importance.

In school, students do experiments in labs and write voluminous records on the results (remember, the same experiments year after year) under the guidance of a teacher. And they learn exactly the same thing without any doubt.

In spiritual science too, the same mood of experiment, analysis and results is allowed, under the supervision of a qualified master. Why years… everyday there are people who can attest to the fact of verifying what is being taught by one’s spiritual master.

Oh wait!! The teachers at the schools and colleges are ‘qualified’. They have a degree from a famous college and are easily identified. They are respected for their knowledge and are experts! We cannot be sure about a Spiritual master in that manner.

Do people send their children to a school only after looking at who are the teachers for different subjects? Do they actually look in to the qualification of each and every teacher? They simply trust the school administration… on basis of recommendations of people who have already sent their children to that school or based on news of how the school’s exam results are outstanding! What about the character of the teachers? Do they set positive role models for the children? How did their previous students fare in life or in studies? I don’t think anyone asks such questions. My point is that we are all so superficial in things in which we ought to be thorough.

In any case, people simply are made more aware of such modern things like degrees and such as they have been forced to fall in line with mainstream community, based on modern scientific development which is driven mostly by just 2 factors: economic opportunism and military expansionism. Just because majority of the people don’t know how to identify a qualified spiritual teacher, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist or cannot be found.

One basic misunderstanding is that nowadays people expect a degree for anything and everything. There will be a day when even unclogging a drain or cleaning toilets will require a ‘degree’!

Spiritual science has a different set of measures to determine who is qualified or bonafide and who can be or cannot be spiritual master. So, next time you search for a bonafide Guru, keep in mind that he doesn’t give you a visiting card with 2 or 3 letter degrees behind his name.

So, we come to the question who is Guru? How can we identify a bonafide Guru?

1. He belongs to one a bonafide sampradayas sanctioned and starting with the Supreme Lord himself, and must have been authorized to act as a Spiritual Master (Refer dharmaḿ tu sākṣād bhagavat-praṇītaḿ – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 6.3.19 and the next two verses)

2. He never presents any invented, self-made teachings (which are then considered as influenced by the defects of a conditioned living entity), but always simply repeats what the scriptures and Supreme Lord say, without any modification or distortion.

3. He follows Sastra strictly and guides his followers on the path of liberation away from material attachment.

4. He does not claim himself to be God, nor does he claim anything and everything as God.

So, putting this in perspective of our previous discussions, let’s see what Srimad Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam have to on this topic (click on the links to read the actual texts).

BG 2.54: Arjuna said: O Kṛṣṇa, what are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak, and what is his language? How does he sit, and how does he walk?

BG 2.55: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O Pārtha, when a man gives up all varieties of desire for sense gratification, which arise from mental concoction, and when his mind, thus purified, finds satisfaction in the self alone, then he is said to be in pure transcendental consciousness.

BG 2.56: One who is not disturbed in mind even amidst the threefold miseries or elated when there is happiness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind.

BG 2.57: In the material world, one who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain, neither praising it nor despising it, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge.

BG 2.58: One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws its limbs within the shell, is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness.

BG 14.21: Arjuna inquired: O my dear Lord, by which symptoms is one known who is transcendental to these three modes? What is his behavior? And how does he transcend the modes of nature?

BG 14.22-25: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O son of Pāṇḍu, he who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present or long for them when they disappear; who is unwavering and undisturbed through all these reactions of the material qualities, remaining neutral and transcendental, knowing that the modes alone are active; who is situated in the self and regards alike happiness and distress; who looks upon a lump of earth, a stone and a piece of gold with an equal eye; who is equal toward the desirable and the undesirable; who is steady, situated equally well in praise and blame, honor and dishonor; who treats alike both friend and enemy; and who has renounced all material activities — such a person is said to have transcended the modes of nature.

BG 14.26: One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.

SB 11.3.21: Therefore any person who seriously desires real happiness must seek a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him by initiation. The qualification of the bona fide guru is that he has realized the conclusions of the scriptures by deliberation and is able to convince others of these conclusions. Such great personalities, who have taken shelter of the Supreme Godhead, leaving aside all material considerations, should be understood to be bona fide spiritual masters.

Do I see people staring in disbelief? Ok, shake your head couple of times, take a deep breath and relax. So, it is not a simple procedure to go in search of a spiritual master. If you are to ensure that a person has all the attributes as listed above, you basically need to be a bit knowledgeable yourself.

Instead of any further elaboration, I will close by quoting my teachers:

“Choosing a spiritual master is quite different from a mundane exercise of ‘choosing’ some physical article or a relationship in this material world based on the mind’s likes and dislikes. Going by personal appeal or by some superficial criteria such as popular acclaim or some other external traits, or making comparison — these are likely to be misleading. Rather, one must look for the symptoms of a self-realized soul manifesting in the person of such a spiritual master, in the light of scriptural directions as stated above.

In the course of this process, the most important criterion on the part of the aspiring disciple is to nurture and strengthen their own internal convictions, sincerity and commitment for spiritual life. If the disciple harbors ulterior motives for some temporary, material benefits, then one is likely to be misled in the search for a guru. Therefore one should progressively cultivate one’s own sincerity of purpose in seeking a bona fide spiritual master competent to guide one to ultimate spiritual perfection. (jijnasuh shreya uttamam SB 11.3.21).

When the disciple’s heart is ready and prepared in this way, Lord Krishna reciprocates with such sincerity and prayers by sending the bona fide spiritual master into the devotee’s life. It will become amply clear who one’s spiritual master is at that time and the earnest disciple will be able to readily recognize and thus proceed to solidify that relationship as described above.”

Article written by Ambi.

0 16 November, 2009 Bhagavad Gita-as i learned November 16, 2009

About the author

A techie by profession but spiritual by nature. Ambi writes about the ancient wisdom of our Indian culture in a way the modern generation can easily understand. Oh ya, his comments are as interesting as his posts and his posts always trigger healthy debates.

View all articles by Ambi


    1. Ambi

      Any serious seeker of Truth will go a little beyond the link of relationships made by birth.

      A mother is also a teacher, yes… but a spiritual master? I don’t think we should be sentimental in this regard.

  1. mahesh kalaal

    I am quite glad for your response on those 3 questions.I mean it. I liked the spiritual Guru definition and your take on te situations in contemporary technical schools. My intention of asking 3 questions is.

    Take this as an example :

    I read some of the works of Sukhbodananda, Vivekananda (vedantha), sundarachaitananda, Ravishankar, Osho, Ramana Maharshi, Jiddu Krishnamurthy ……. I found different interpretations, sometimes contradicting each other, of sacred texts from these gurus(?)….. So, My ultimate question is “What are the parameters and criteria to choose the ‘Authorized ‘ guru from the above Gurus” and hence was my question

    Who is Qualified?(Ravi Shankar?)
    Who is Spiritual? (Ramana Maharshi,)
    Who is master(Sukhbodananda??)

    PS: I guess you even wont consider Osho to be in the domain of spirituality

    1. Ambi

      Wonderful question.

      But before I elaborate, you say you have seen contradicting statements and interpretations. Can you give me an example? It would help me narrow down the scope of my response.

  2. mahesh kalaal

    My concern here is not about the contradicting interpretations they have made. Because once we enter the techicalities of spiritualism, the discussion goes on.

    So, provided a chance, What should be the criteria and parameters to choose one ‘Authorized’ Guru from the list.

    1. Ambi

      If that is the case, I would say simply check if the person meets the 4 criteria I have mentioned.

      In case, for whatever reason, you are disinclined to accept the first criterion (which almost everyone in the list you have given would not meet), at least ensure the other 3 are met clearly.

      The bottom line is that a person can become a Guru ONLY if he is authorized to become one by ‘his’ Guru. If someone claims enlightenment on his/ her own or puts forth charity or yoga classes as ‘the’ path for realization, I would be very cautious in associating with such a person.

      That is because, personally, I will never trust a person to be a Guru if he does not credit his Guru or the scriptures in his teachings, and tries to push everything as his own ‘realizations’, and tries to create an aura of awe and mysticism around himself.

      Note that this does not mean people who are self realized on their own cannot exist, but just that his capability as a Guru or Acharya is to be doubted.

      People disagree on these things mostly because of sentimental reasons. If one can take up the checks and balances offered in the Vedic scriptures seriously, one can easily identify a true Acharya.

      1. mahesh kalaal

        If one can take up the checks and balances offered in the Vedic scriptures seriously, one can easily identify a true Acharya.

        –> To seek a guru, i need to take up the checks and balances offered in the Vedic scriptures…… but to understand the offerings of Vedic scriptures i need a guru….To seek a guru, i need to take up the checks and balances offered in the Vedic scriptures…… but to understand the offerings of Vedic scriptures i need a guru

        Is it redundant or cyclic?
        Am i dumb or foolish in asking this question?

        1. Ambi

          You misunderstood.

          Let me clarify. I have given you the checks and balances, as well the 4 criteria, as I learned through and from my teachers.

          What I meant was simply that if you take up those ‘seriously’, you can identify a true Acharya easily.

          If someone does not have even a bit of knowledge on the Vedic teachings, then yes, the statement becomes redundant.

          The best thing for that kind of a person is to do a critical analysis (just like you are doing!) and see for himself if the philosophy, the teacher of the philosophy, his activities, character and internal mood (AND of his followers) are consistent with each other. One can pose the doubts and questions to the teacher directly and assess based on his response. That is a process… takes time and effort.

        2. Ambi

          Let me also add the process still won’t guarantee that the teacher would be ‘bonafide’… but since almost every ‘Guru’ has roots in the Vedic background (this is my belief, I may be wrong), he may help change your understanding to different level.

          It is not uncommon for people to go through several teachers before finding ‘THE’ one. I know it because I have been through it.

          1. mahesh kalaal

            It is not uncommon for people to go through several teachers before finding ‘THE’ one.

            I like this sentence.

            “Let me also add the process still won’t guarantee that the teacher would be ‘bonafide’…… he may help change your understanding to different level.”

            Yeah….that is true….. There is no ONE Best way(Guru)

  3. Arunthathi Ramadhas

    Hari Om.
    The article is very nicely presented and it will help those who are seeking a spiritual guru. Because meditation is being sold here now a days.
    It is very difficult to recognise a guru. Sometimes we can recognise a guru through qualifications that we expect the guru to have, such as knowledge of the scriptures(sastra) and a commitment to that knowledge. But the truth is, one must have the Lord’s grace to understand a guru.If we are prayerful we will finally get results
    “sadasivasamarambam sankaracharyamadhyamaam
    asmadacharyaparyantam vande guruparamparam”
    “I salute the lineage of teachers,beginning with Siva,the Lord,(linked by) Sankaracharya in the middle, and extending down to my own teacher.”

    1. Ambi


      You address the ‘understanding’ a Guru part, whereas what I have addressed is about ‘identifying’ a bonafide Guru.

      And though the fundamentals may be similar, the qualification and final word on who can be an Acharya is different between Sankaracharya’s line and the Vaishnava sampradayas.

    2. mahesh kalaal

      @ Arunthathi

      “”one must have the Lord’s grace to understand a guru….””

      What does “Lord’s Grace” mean here?.
      Could you please clarify elaborately?

  4. Arunthathi Ramadhas

    Hari Om.
    “Grace means what you have earned.Grace is a graceful word for expressing the result of your actions.Ishvara does not go about distributing some grace to someone on some days;you have to earn it. If Ishvara goes by his own fancy distributing grace as he likes, then he is no more Ishvara. He would suffer from the blemish of partiality. So there is no “luck” business as far as Ishvara’s grace is concerned.You have to earn it.If one earnestly seeks the knowledge gets the right teacher by Ishvara-anugraha.
    There is no measuring rod to identify a guru.One thing is possible; a teacher can prove himself a teacher. For this he has to make you see what you have to see, nothing less will make him a teacher. So to find out a teacher is to find exactly the teaching.He should be well versed in the scriptures. If you get such a person he will guide you and convert all our vague ideas into a real pursuit and proceed on the right track.
    I am not qualified to clarify any doubts.I have not studied vedanta in a systematic way.I have read few books of Swamy Chinmayandaji, Swamy Dayananda Saraswathy, Swamy Vivekananda and so on. I have attended some discourses of Swamy Dayanada and jana yagnjas of Swamy Chinmayananda. So what I have read from their books I am giving that is all.
    I appreciate your effort to write these articles and your good intention to go to a right teacher while taking up the spirtual path.It is really unfortunate that people are misguided now a days.It is true that standard of life of the people has improved; but people are in a confused mind and they are not able to recognise what is genuine and what is not.Right decisions can come from a clear mind alone.
    May Lord Krishna give clear mind to all of us and show us the right track.

    1. Ambi

      “It is true that standard of life of the people has improved;”

      Standard of living is a funny concept. Here’s my definition of it. It is a measure used by well-off people to see how well-off they are now compared to the past and compared to people who are below that standard.

      I am just ranting, ain’t I? 😉

  5. Arunthathi Ramadhas

    @ Mahesh
    Hari Om.
    Nice to know that you are preparing for IAS examinatins.All the very best. May God Bless you.

  6. Murugan

    I am not sure if I even qualify to ask a question here. Most of you looks like have tremendous knowledge. I landed up in this site because it was discussing some topics on Vethathiri. I came to know about Vethathiri through one of my uncle. I liked it more because it had some simple exercises. I am not yet into spirituality. But I have a question here. Forgive me if the question is stupid. Here we are talking about whom to accept as guru. There are lot of Sidhas whom has definitely learned through their gurus but are not part of Krishna Consiousness. They preached Yoga and other means of self-realization. How do we really treat them? Are they qualified gurus?

    1. Ambi

      Self-realization is a goal, but it’s not the end.

      A true siddha would definitely knows some aspect of the absolute truth and surely has some mystical powers. They would be and are worthy of everyone’s respect. But I don’t think that would qualify them as, or they would be willing to be, an ‘Acharya’.

      “…but are not part of Krishna Consiousness. They preached Yoga and other means of self-realization. How do we really treat them? Are they qualified gurus?”

      When I say Krishna, I mean and refer to ‘God’, who, by definition, can only be ‘one’ and is NOT some vague, impersonal, bright light up somewhere there which manifested in human form. This is a point of friction for many but this is not a conclusion made by my own speculation. So, feel free to disagree and debate with me if you feel otherwise.

      In any case, any path or technique or Guru would and must help a person to come to knowledge about one’s true relationship with the Supreme Lord and come to full consciousness of the Supreme Lord (and hence the word ‘Krishna Consciousness’, please don’t make it out to be some esoteric sounding stuff based on speculation).

      If not, then the path or Guru cannot be bonafide.

      1. Murugan

        Thanks for your explanation. Krishna as I know is a human form of God. How is the god in original form be.

  7. Murugan

    One more thing I wanted to ask is if I need to read some books from ISKCON, which one you will recomend first. Give me some books in order of the reading

    1. Ambi

      I am not a member of ISKCON, have never been a member… but I do follow the teachings of the sampradaya they descend from. The teachings of that sampradaya have been very nicely compiled in to several critical books by their Founder-Acharya, Srila Prabhupada.

      I request you to read through “Bhagavad Gita AS It Is”… right from the first page to the last one.

      You can find it online… at and

      But I strongly suggest that you get a hard copy of the book so that you need not strain your eyes by sitting in front of the computer for reading the entire book.

      If that would be too heavy for you (in terms of the philosophy 🙂 ), you can read through any of the other books from the link I specifically recommend starting of with the title “Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers”.

  8. Pingback: Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Perfection of Yoga | Ginger Chai

  9. Suresh Rao

    Dear Ambi,
    You have written a good article and I was wondering if you too have a Guru who guides you in this spiritual.The true Guru will find a true aspirant and he/she will only unveil the layers of Maya that are covering him. The Guru is just like a sign post which will show you the path. I was once asked by the head of Iskcon which sampradaya I belonged to and I answered him that I don’t even know my gotra, caste or any such tags so how can I say that! One more explanation here- Sometimes a true Guru has no need to read any spiritual texts or has read them before. He can expound on such topics without any physical exposure to them also. The flow of words happens by the grace of Lord or the Lord Himself speaks through that body. Scriptures are just some books which lie around but they can never satiate a persons quest without the express permission from God.Similarly a person who does not believe in a holy book can use it as a seat or paper weight also. In this world of God there exists FSM and Invisible Pink Unicorns too. Well, after all it is His creation, right?Any other taking the onus of creating is taking over His domain!I enjoyed your articles and hope you keep on writing such good stuff. God bless you.

    1. Ambi

      Mr. Suresh Rao:

      It is unthinkable that I can even speak at least this minimal amount about the Gita or any spiritual topic without the grace of my teachers.

      Head of Iskcon? Can you clarify? You are referring to Srila Prabhupada?

      You knowing your gotra, caste and what not has NOTHING TO DO with identifying the sampradaya you belong to… and are NOT prerequisites. And you did not mention what response you got!

      As to your other ideas like a true Guru has no need to read any spiritual texts, I am not sure from where you got such a conception. Yes, by the mercy of Lord Krishna, there have been people who have been illiterate who are celebrated as exalted devotees. But your idea is the root cause why so many pseudo-spiritualists exist now… “no need for any sastra or books, just look in to yourself because the truth is in you”. True, truth is in us… as Paramatma, but it easily makes people misidentify themselves as God.

      “Scriptures are just some books which lie around but they can never satiate a persons quest without the express permission from God.”

      So if someone says that reading scriptures is boring, is it because “God” doesn’t want him to?

      Well, one can use a holy book as seat or pillow (and reap the karma for it), but bottom-line is this: I read the scriptures (whatever little it was) because my Guru told me to under his guidance. And his Guru told him to… and so on. THAT is sampradaya. And that is how it becomes authoritative, since the chain of teachers goes all the way to Lord Krishna himself, who says this in the Gita:

      BG 16.23: He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.

      BG 16.24: One should therefore understand what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures. Knowing such rules and regulations, one should act so that he may gradually be elevated.

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