In Sanskrit, the term "guru" literally means one who dispels ignorance. Gu=darkness. Ru=light. A guru leads one from the darkness to the light. But traditionally, a guru is not a teacher nor a mentor. While a teacher is responsible for the student's daily education, a guru is a living example of enlightenment. A guru lives and breathes each moment in nirvana. A guru's job is not to teach. A guru's job is simply to be. If you can call that a "job."
My good friend Rufus Juskus had some things to add when I invited him to comment on the subject. Rufus is a Vedic Astrologer, a yogi, a musician, and a kirtan (chanting) leader. He is a great example of a person who walks their talk. He told me: "It is said that a Guru comes when the devotee is ready – it is also said that we are beings in form, and that meeting God in form (a true Guru) is the way we relate to our striving to achieve perfection in ourselves. The open secret here is that we are already infinite perfect beings and we don’t realize it – we are born into a world thinking we are separate from another - the Catholics call this being born with “original sin” — when the truth is we are all one being. So the Guru’s job is to help us realize our own true nature."
Rufus also sent me this:
I believe in the concept of a Guru. I believe there have been many gurus throughout time, most of whom would not call themselves a guru. I have also come to believe that many of those who hold themselves up as "gurus" in the New Age world of spirituality are no such thing.
I recently received a free video in my inbox from Hay House, a publishing company and purveyor of spiritual materials such as books, CDs, DVDs, workshops, etc. This video was purportedly about getting in touch with one's "divine" essence. The well known author who created this presentation was clearly holding himself up as an example of an enlightened being. He went on to tell me how he gave away hundreds of dollars every week to various needy people he came across in his daily life. I immediately turned off the video. If this man were anything approaching a guru, he would not need to make a video bragging about his generosity. He would simply give because it is a part of his being. He would see these needy people as ONE with himself. And giving to them would not seem like something notable, or remarkable, as he would be helping an extension of his own self. Yet thousands (millions?) of people read this man's words and believe they are listening to a guru.
This weekend, Yoga International offered a free digital yoga conference. I signed up and watched many excellent yoga workshops. Gary Kraftsow offered two lectures and a short practice on relieving stress. Jill Miller taught a 90-minute guided exploration of the diaphram. Doug Keller led a practice for releasing the hamstrings. These were all informative and educational; I learned several new tips and tweaks for improving my own practice and my teaching. However, I also attempted a class which completely missed the mark for me. The teacher offered a program supposedly for stress relief, but the poses did nothing of the sort. The repeated strenuous backbends were clearly designed for one purpose: to show off the instructor's extreme (circus act) flexibility. I found this to be another case of the false guru. There is nothing healthy, helpful, safe, or desirable about overarching the lumbar spine to the extent that was demonstrated on this video. And this is a world-renowned teacher. Some might even use the word "guru."
I do not believe a guru holds themselves above others. A guru has no need to brag or show off. A true guru has nothing to prove and tries to prove nothing. If someone claims to be a guru, I would immediately suspect the opposite is true.
Please feel free to comment below if you have had experience with a guru in your life, real or false.