What’s the point of a guru?

What’s the point of a guru?

अज्ञान तिमिरान्धस्य ज्ञानाञ्जन शलाकया
चक्षुरुन्मीलितं येन तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः
I bow to the guru, who brought the kajal of knowledge to my eyes
That were blinded by the darkness of ignorance.

I went to the temple yesterday. I wasn’t specifically planning to, but things worked out that way. Which was nice as it was Guru Purnima.

Baaghi – martial arts masala movie with guru-shishya plot

Later in the evening, we watched the Hindi movie Baaghi on TV. The 2016 version, not to be confused with the 1990 or 2000 ones (seriously, why is this name so popular they make a movie every decade?). I enjoyed the movie in a didn’t-expect-too-much sort of way. Kalarippayatt, lovely backdrops of Kerala and Thailand, saving the girl and finally, avenging the guru’s murder and carrying on his tradition. The only thing I didn’t like was the way they put in meaningless nonsense for the Malayalam words: the board on the platform at Kollam station, and the magazine with Shraddha Kapoor on the cover. Shoddy direction, for a big budget movie.


I wasn’t expecting the movie to have a guru-shishya sub-plot, but it was appropriate, today being Guru Purnima. But that got me thinking about the whole concept of a Guru, and what it means these days.

Offering spiritual guidance is becoming an ever growing enterprise

Investment bankers are selling their Ferraris and becoming monks or life-coaches. And making more money than ever! Gurus and god-men and -women are running enormous commercial operations. All sorts of groups – exploitative cults, movements with sci-fi theologies – are able to attract intelligent people.

Our scriptures (and those of many other faiths) are clear about a few things:

  • The search for the underlying reality – who you are, what is the universe and what is your relationship with the universe – is an individual journey. No one else can do it for you.
  • But having a guide is an immense help. Some traditions even say the journey is impossible without a guide.
  • Conversely, having the wrong guide is immensely harmful. So it is important to evaluate the worth of the guru before accepting them.

Check out the guru well, before you accept them

There are dozens of books or sages who can be quoted in support of these statements. Here are a few dohas of sant Kabir, for example. In short, we should not silence our critical thinking faculty in the desire for a guru. Follow someone only to the extent they are worthy of being followed. Desire for a quick buck blinds our critical thinking and leads us into the hands of the scamster; desire for spiritual guidance blinds our critical thinking and leads us to the deluded or fraudulent guru.

So then, how do we determine if a guru is worth following? Why do so many fall into the clutches of unworthy gurus? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a list of criteria to evaluate gurus?

Read on:

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