Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Role of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma

The Role of the Guru in Sanatana Dharma

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
International Sanatana Dharma Society

tad viddhi pranipatena
pariprasnena sevaya
upadeksyanti te jnanam
jnaninas tattva-darsinah

“Just try to learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the Truth.”

(Bhagavad Gita, 4:34)

The concept of practicing spiritual life under the guidance of an authentic and qualified guru, or spiritual teacher, has been central to the entire Dharmic world-view from the beginning of time, down to our present day. So important has the role of the guru always been in Vedic culture, that there is no Hindu tradition or sampradaya (school of thought) in all of Sanatana Dharma that does not offer the greatest of respect to the importance of the guru.
The great Vedantic text known at the Vedanta-sara paints the following dramatic picture in order to convey the importance of having a guru in one’s spiritual pursuit:

janana-maranadi-samsaranala-santapto dipta-sira jala-rasim iva
upahara-panbm sotriyam brahma-nistham gurum upasrtya tam anusarati

“Just as a person whose head is on fire runs to water, one who burns from the flames of birth, death, old age, and disease in the holocaust of material existence must run to a genuine guru for relief. Such a guru must be fixed in the Absolute Truth and well-versed in the scriptures. One should approach him with all that is needed for sacrifice and submit to him as a disciple, ready to carry out his every instruction.”

(Vedanta-Sara, 11)

In our present era, the term “guru” has become very well known even throughout the non-Hindu world, in addition to being known within Sanatana Dharma. Indeed, the very word “guru” has today become a part of the standard English lexicon with such terms as “computer guru”, “health guru”, “economics guru”, etc. being employed in daily usage. While the use of the word has become widespread, however, the sacrosanct importance of the station of guru is not as deeply understood in contemporary society as it once was. In the following work, I will be briefly explaining the traditional Dharmic understanding of the importance of the guru in the life of the spiritual practitioner, as well as dispelling some of the more common myths often wrongly associated with the principle of guru.

Interestingly, the very word “guru” itself is actually a somewhat generalized term that simply means a competent teacher of any kind. Any skilled expert who is authorized to teach a specific subject can be considered a guru in the most general of senses. Thus, there can be a sitar guru, a martial arts guru, a medicinal arts guru, or a fine arts guru. When the word is used in the overtly spiritual sense, however, then we are talking about a guru of a categorically different nature. The spiritual guru is specifically designated as a “sadguru” or a teacher of Truth. It is the sadguru, the conveyer of Truth, who serves as the underlying model of any and all other types of gurus.

It has always been universally recognized that one can only learn a specialized field of important knowledge from a qualified and well-trained teacher, an expert on that particular subject who has both theoretical knowledge, as well as the acquired experience necessary to bring that knowledge to life. If one were to study to become a medical doctor, for example, it is understood that the only way to truly understand medicine is to go to a recognized school, and learn under the instruction of very experienced professors who themselves are recognized doctors trained and authorized to teach. If we attempt to learn to become a doctor by merely reading books on our own without the benefit of such expert guidance, we will be doing both ourselves and our later patients the greatest of disservices. Rather than curing our patients, in fact, we will most likely harm them due to our not having learned medicine from a living authority.

Similarly, it has been universally recognized in our Hindu tradition since the most ancient of times that if one wishes to understand and make progress in the realm of spirituality, one must also seek guidance under the most able spiritual professionals available. Such a spiritual professional is the guru.

According to the Bhagavata Purana:

tasmad gurum prapadyeta
jijnasum sreyam uttamam
sabde pare ca nisnatam
brahmany upasamasrayam

“One who is searching for the Ultimate Truth must surrender unto a spiritual master, a guru. A guru knows the inner meaning of the Vedas, is fixed in the Absolute Truth and is expert in the shastra, the revealed scriptures.”

(Bhagavata Purana, 11.3.21)

Of all types of gurus, the scriptures (Shastras) of Sanatana Dharma have recognized the Acharya as the most important form that the principle of guru can take. Acharyavan puruso veda, “Only one who has an Acharya can know the Truth.” (Chandogya Upanisad, 6.18.2) It is only under the guidance of an Acharya who knows the Truth that a seeker can in turn know Truth.

The sadguru is a spiritual teacher. The Acharya, moreover, is considered to be a sadguru who has attained a much higher stage of personal spiritual development, and who thus has more responsibility in the realm of Dharmic leadership. An Acharya is a spiritual preceptor who represents a living lineage (sampradaya) of Sanatana Dharma, and who embodies the teachings of Dharma in his own life, thus teaching the world by his own personal living example. While every Acharya fulfills the function of a guru, not every guru can be considered an Acharya.

More than merely being a teacher in the formal academic sense, however, the Acharya guru is recognized as also being someone who possesses divine qualities due to his own years of practice and inner realization, and who thus perfectly personifies the fruit of spiritual teachings in his own life.

acinoti yam sastrartham
acare sthapayaty api
svayam acarate yasma
acharyas tena kirtitam

“An Acharya is one who fully understands the conclusions of the revealed scriptures. His own behavior reflects his deep realization, and thus he is a living example of divine precept. He is therefore known as an Acharya, or one who teaches the meaning of the scriptures both by word and deed.”

(Vayu Purana)

The qualified and authentic guru is not merely someone who teaches the Truth verbally, but who also lives that Truth perfectly, and who then reflects that Truth to his students in a living and dynamic way.

In the present Age of Conflict (Kali Yuga), unfortunately, we often encounter unqualified and self-anointed individuals who claim to be gurus while often falling very far short of the true meaning of this term. Often such unqualified persons do not possess the prerequisite qualities, training, and characteristics necessary to call themselves a guru in the authentic and scripturally-based sense of this term. The scriptures of Sanatana Dharma have given us very clear and unambiguous guidelines of many of the most important qualities necessary in order to recognize whether or not a person is in fact an authentic and qualified guru. Some of these guidelines are outlined in the Bhagavad Gita:

duhkhesv anudvigna-manah
sukhesu vigata-sprhah
sthita-dhir munir ucyate

“One who is not disturbed in spite of the threefold miseries, who is not elated when experiencing pleasantness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind.”

(Bhagavad Gita, 2:56)

Thus, the sadguru (true guru) is inwardly detached and transcends the sufferings of this world, accepting material pleasure and pain, suffering and pleasantness with equal demeanor. It is as a result of the true guru’s transcendent status - and the consequent calm, peace, and gravitas that the guru exudes at all times - that the true guru has the ability to help his student to similarly transcend the darkness of ignorance.

More, the true guru exhibits certain necessary inherent qualities that are a reflection of the fact that he is presencing the Divine in his own life. Again, the Bhagavad Gita gives us several lists of these important transcendental qualities of the true guru, or the liberated sage, including the following important characteristics:

“The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor--these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.”

(Bhagavad Gita, 16:1-3)

In this way, the guru personifies the fruit of a sattvic (spiritually positive) lifestyle and of years of meditative practice.

A true guru is known, not merely by how much charisma they may possess, or by what cheap supposed miracles they seemingly perform, or by how popular they have become with the gullible masses due to well-formulated PR and marketing campaigns. Rather, true gurus are known by whether or not they personify the qualities of a guru that are clearly outlined in the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma. Any person who claims to be a true guru, but who does not exhibit all the qualities of a true guru that are revealed in the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, is a false guru and must be immediately rejected as a charlatan if the student is going to make any progress toward the goal of transcendental realization.

It is precisely because the true guru both personifies the very highest philosophical teachings (siddhanta), as well as the moral and yogic behavior described in our scriptures that the guru has the ability to deliver us from ignorance to wisdom, from darkness to the light, and from bondage to freedom.

According to our scriptures, when we find ourselves in the presence of such an authentic guru, it is almost as if we are in the very presence of God Himself; because like God, the sadguru has the ability to show us Truth, and to thus set us free. In the Bhagavata Purana, Sri Krishna confirms this in His instructions to His great devotee Uddhava:

acharyam mam vijaniyam
navamanyeta karhicit
na martya buddhyasuyeta
sarva-deva mayo gurum

[Krishna told Uddhava] "Know the Acharya as My very Self. I am the Acharya. Never envy the Acharya; never blaspheme him or consider him to be an ordinary man. Because the Acharya channels the infinite, He is greater than the sum total of all the finite. Thus, he is more important than all the gods.”

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.17.27)

Further, Sri Krishna explains in the same sacred text that to even view the liberated Acharya as an ordinary man, and to not offer one’s due respects to such an exhalted guru, is considered by Him to be a great offence (guru-maha-aparadha):

yasya saksad bhagavati
jnana-dipa prade gurau
martyasad-dhim srutam tasya
sarvam ku-jara-saucavat

“The guru must be considered to be like the Supreme Lord Himself, because he bestows the light of transcendental knowledge upon his disciples. Consequently, for one who maintains the material conception that the guru is an ordinary human being, everything is frustrated. His attempts to make progress in spiritual life - his Vedic studies and scriptural knowledge, his penances and austerities, and his worship of the deity - are all as useless as the bathing of an elephant who rolls in the mud after his bath.”

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.20.17)

Confirmation of these Vedic instructions on the nature of sadguru is found throughout the length and breadth of the Hindu scriptures. For example, in the Padma Purana it is explained that: gurus nara-matir yasya va naraki sam, “One who thinks that the guru is an ordinary man is said to live in ignorance.” In this way, we see that the totality of the scriptures speak in one, unified and authoritative voice on the importance of the guru and the unique role of the guru is the life of one who claims the desire to know Truth.

Later in this same conversation, Uddhava replies to Sri Krishna’s instruction in the same vein:

naivopayanty apacitim kavayas tavesa
brahmayusapi krtam rddha mudam smarantam
yo'ntar bahis tanu-bhrtam asubham vidhunvann
acarya-caittya vapusa sva-gatim vyanakti

[Uddhava said to Sri Krishna] "O my Lord! Transcendental poets and experts in spiritual science could not fully express their indebtedness to You, even if they were endowed with the lifetime of Brahma, for You appear in two features - externally as the Acharya and internally as the Paramatman, the Supreme Self - to deliver the embodied living beings by revealing to them your devotional service and teaching them how to approach you on the path of divine love."

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.29.6)

In addition to explaining both the nature and the qualities of the sadguru, the scriptures also explain that it is likewise very important to understand the important qualities that must be present in a sincere and qualified student. In the Katha Upanishad, for example, we read the following:

sravanayapi bahubhir yo na labhyam
srnvanto 'pi bahavo na vidyum
acharyo 'sya vakta kusalo 'sya labhda
acharyo jnata kushala nushishtam

“Many cannot even hear about the soul, and even after hearing about the soul, many cannot understand it; this is because it is hard to find an Acharya who is a genuine seer of the truth. Such a qualified Acharya is a great soul and is very rare. At the same time, realization of the truth can be had only by those disciples who carefully follow the qualified Acharya’s teachings and become expert in the science of God. Such disciples are also very rare. Thus it is that only a few ever come to know the soul in truth.”

(Katha Upanisad, 1.2.7.)

To find a sincere and worthy student is thus explained as being just as difficult as finding a qualified and worthy sadguru. The highest attainment of transcendent Truth, and the personal spiritual liberation (moksha) that results from such a realization, is the most difficult goal to realize. Thus, Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita:

Manushyam sahasreshu
Kashchid yatati siddhaye
Yatatam api siddhanam
Kashchin mam vetti tattvatah

“Of many thousands of men, one will attempt to reach perfection; and of the few who reach this goal, only a rare soul will perhaps know Me as I am.”

(Bhagavad Gita, 7:3)

When a sincere student and a qualified sadguru finally do find each other, and unite in the eternal process of spiritual exchange – the guru sharing his insight, instruction, and empowering presence with the student; and the student learning and growing spiritually with humility, sincerity, openness and eagerness – we then witness the perfect conditions necessary for the celebration and living of Truth. If you are seeking Truth, then seek the guidance of one who has seen the Truth. Seek the sadguru.

The Author:

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.) is an American who has been practicing Sanatana Dharma for over 35 years. He has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies and is recognized by the global Hindu community as one of the leading Hindu Acharyas (Spiritual Preceptors) in the nation. With a large international following of both Indian and Western students, Sri Acharya Ji is especially renowned for his highly authentic approach to Dharmic spirituality, his authoritative and scholarly method of teaching, and his clear emphasis on serious spiritual practice and direct experience of self-realization and knowledge of God. He has lectured on Sanatana Dharma at such prestigious institutions as Harvard University, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, Northwestern, as well as for such Fortune 500 companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology. He is the Founder and President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society.

His primary websites are:

Please help us spread this message far and wide. If you found this article helpful to you in your own understanding of the spiritual path, please forward it on to others so that they too may derive spiritual benefit.

Bhakti as a Social Force

Bhakti as a Social Force

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
(Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.)

The very heart of Sanatana Dharma consists of experiencing a direct and intimate realization of God in devotion (bhakti). Without such an experience, Sanatana Dharma is rendered devoid of all meaning and purpose. To love God is to embrace Dharma. And to embrace Dharma thoroughly and without reservation is what it means to be a Hindu.

One of the most unfortunate and most damaging stereotypes that many present-day Hindus have about Sanatana Dharma is that a) deep spirituality and b) practical action in the world simply do not mix. In the minds of such people, serious spiritual practice and practical social action are mutually exclusive paths, of which we can only choose one. Such a defeatist scenario is in actuality the very opposite of the realty of Sanatana Dharma. Indeed, holding this incorrect opinion that one cannot be both spiritual and also engaged in the world is in itself just another sad manifestation of the self-denigrating syndrome that we see so prevalent among nominal Hindus today.

When we look at both the history and the teachings of Sanatana Dharma specifically, and of all religions generally, we see that the reality is the opposite of these gross, and very much modern, Western-inspired, stereotypes. The myth of the other-worldly mystic having been rendered incapable of engaging the world around him in a practical and activist manner is an exaggerated stereotype arising more from the speculative minds of spiritually unaware speculators of religion than from anything corresponding to reality. Rather than being socially debilitating, spirituality has always proven itself to be the most powerful motivator for highly practical and effective action in the world.

Bhakti, or single minded devotional meditation upon Bhagavan (God), is not a hindrance to practical social and political action in the world. On the contrary, bhakti has been, by its very inherent nature, a powerful and dynamic social force in the past. Bhakti is an unparalleled motivating force that has induced revolutionary and progressive change. It will also serve as the driving spiritual force that will revive and strengthen Dharma well into the 21st Century.

If we examine the very long history of Sanatana Dharma, we see that it was almost exclusively deeply spiritually-realized people who were always the most practical and successful men (and women) of action. Valmiki, for example, was originally a bandit who then later became a dedicated Rama-bhakta and ascetic sage. It was only after this personal spiritual transformation affected him to the core of his being that he then found himself empowered to compose the enormous literary masterpiece known as the Ramayana in its 24,000 Sanskrit verses. Indeed, the entire corpus of Sanskrit shastras (scriptures) were written by hundreds of spiritually-inspired saints, whose very motivation for writing about philosophy, religion, politics, Yoga, mathematics, sciences, medicine, etc., etc. was their own radically personal self-transformative experience of the presence of God within them. Without the committed scholarship of such spiritually-inspired sages, Hinduism and India would today have been entirely devoid of an intellectual and cultural history! It was the empowerment provided to these sages by God that equipped them to realize unparalleled feats of scholarly and literary accomplishment in this world.

After the ascendance of Buddhism and Jainism in Hindu India, it was again God-realized men of action who - far from retreating from the world and living in their sadhana huts - led dynamic movements that saved Sanatana Dharma from imminent extinction. The great sage Sri Shankara Acharya was known as Dig-vijaya (“Conqueror of All Directions”) because he quite literally conquered the four corners of India, peacefully reestablishing Vaidika Siddhanta (the Vedic Truth) as the preeminent philosophical system on earth, and the only legitimate path for knowing Brahman (God). Shankara was not shy in his assertion that Sanatana Dharma was the most legitimate and direct way of knowing God, and each and every other system was substandard in comparison. He is known to have engaged in hundreds of debates with the avaidika (non-Hindu) Buddhists, soundly defeating them with the superiority of Vedic teachings, and converting their followers en masse to Sanatana Dharma. Hardly an otherworldly dreamer was he!

The great Vedantist philosopher Ramanuja Acharya, similarly, was a radical bhakta (practitioner of Bhakti-yoga) who nonetheless wrote some of the most philosophically profound masterpieces India has ever produced, while simultaneously traversing the length of breadth of Bharata (India) to reestablish the path of bhakti as the greatest expression of Vedanta philosophy. Ramanuja created a revolution in people’s understanding and appreciation of the ancient bhakti tradition, reviving bhakti in the four corners of India, and changing the course of Indian and world history.

Like Shankara centuries before him, the Vaisnava Vedantist Sri Madhva Acharya traveled widely, actively converting thousands of Buddhists and Jains to Sanatana Dharma, and reestablishing Vaidika Dharma in South India. He also urged the kings of South India to physically expel thousands of avaidika Jain leaders from their kingdoms, converting many important kings to the fold of Sanatana Dharma.

Tulasidas, Surdas, Mirabhai, Chaitanya, Sahajananda Svami (Swaminarayana), and a thousand other God-intoxicated revolutionaries fearlessly revived the people's faith Sanatana Dharma during the Islamic holocaust in northern India. Without the practical leadership and hard work of these many bhakti-inspired saints, Sanatana Dharma would most likely have been annihilated by the Abrahamic purveyors of genocide hundreds of years ago.

The biographies of many hundreds of Rajarshis - or courageous and implacable God-realized kings - are recorded in the Puranas. Such philosopher-kings were often known as Chakravartins, due to the fact that they ruled their kingdoms while wielding the figurative “Wheel of Dharma”. Such Chakravartins and Rajarshis were at once the personifications of both Dharmic spirituality and martial nobility. Such rulers exhibited qualities that represented the very best of both the spiritual and the practical worlds. They were philosopher-kings, ascetic-warriors, saintly-rulers, and martial-yogis. These spiritual men-of-action were capable of delivering a profound and moving discourse on Dharma one day, and then leading an army of multiple phalanxes into bloody battle to defend Dharma the next. These Chakravartins were saints-of-action! They are also perfect models of the qualities that we so desperately need in Hindu leaders today.

The Dharmic world is waiting with fervent yearning for the arrival of such Chakravartins today, who will be able to save Sanatana Dharma with the intensity of their devotion, and the powerful authority of their sovereign will.

How many untold thousands of true brahmana (intellectuals/priests) leaders like Chanakya have helped to preserve Sanatana Dharma and served as brave guardians of Dharmic culture? How many saints have served as trusted advisors to kings and empires throughout the history of India, helping to steer the great “ship of state” toward to the path of Dharma?

How many unlimited numbers of fearless yogis, gurus, acharyas, and saints have worked endlessly to keep Sanatana Dharma alive in the face of terrible challenges, conquests, persecutions, and betrayals from within the likes of which so many of today’s "Hindu activists" living in the lap of comfort in Twenty-first Century America, New Delhi, and Mumbai, can only pretend to comprehend, but can never hope to imitate?

Did Swami Vivekananda ignore the real world, or did he fearlessly engage the world, traveling thousands of miles from the only home he knew in order to share the light of Sanatana Dharma with an uncaring world? What of such contemporary spiritual soldiers as Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, or Sri Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, or Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Sri Vamadeva Shastri), or Sri Shastri Pandurang Athawale? It has only been due to the hard work of such sages as these that Sanatana Dharma has been preserved for as long as it has.

Sanatana Dharma will be saved by the emergence of many more such saints and leaders in the immediate future - and such saintly leaders will arise, not from the stars above, but from the ranks of the Hindu community itself. Ours is not a messianic, faith-based religion. Unlike the Abrahamic sects, spiritually-inspired Hindus do not sit in prayer huts and wait for messiahs, saviors, or avataras (the next of whom will not be arriving for another 420,000 years!). We don't hide in prayer closets as the world burns around us hoping only for our own salvation. Again, this is only a childish stereotype of the religious Hindu. Rather, Hindus are a very practical and innovative people. When times are dire, God-inspired leadership always arises from within the Hindu community.

My message to the Hindu community is this: if you want to see an empowered and fearless Hindu leadership arise to lead Dharma into the Twenty-First Century, then YOU must become the leaders you seek. And you must do so, not out of a craving for money, fame, or power, but as a devotional offering of your life humbly surrendered at the divine feet of Bhagavan. True Hindu leadership can only arise from within the Hindu community itself.

It will only be God-empowered Hindu leaders, fueled by the blissful rays of bhakti, fearless in the face of opposition, and dedicated to giving their lives for the greater benefit of the Hindu People and the Dharma Nation, who will be capable of leading Sanatana Dharma and of securing its future in the years to come. Indeed, IT IS ONLY BECAUSE THEY ARE GOD-EMPOWERED that such leaders will be ready, equipped, and able to storm into the world unafraid and confident in their ability to compel positive change upon society, politics, and culture. It is only the power of bhakti that can fuel such dedication and fearlessness.

Bhakti can be the only motivational force strong enough to ensure the degree of self-sacrifice necessary to create true leadership. It is not enough to identify yourself as a "Hindu activist" merely because you find Sanatana Dharma interesting, inspiring, a neat culture that shouldn't disappear, or just because you somehow think it's your ethnic heritage. Such trivial concerns are not enough to promote effective action. The only way a Hindu leader will be truly effective is if he/she has had a direct vision of God in his/her heart so powerful that they see it as their own personal service to Bhavagan to teach others how to love Him. Any lesser motivation only leads to the invisible chains of ego. Only when we have leaders who are on fire with devotion (bhakti) to God will Dharma be saved.

Throughout the history of Sanatana Dharma, bhakti has served as a powerful social force, and has consequently served to change the course of human history. Bhakti will once again serve as a social force today as we face a world that is yearning for truth, for goodness, and for meaningful relief from the manifold sufferings produced by the failed offerings of the cold, secular world we have created. The life-enhancing power of bhakti, coupled with honest and fearless leadership, will bring about nothing less that the Dharma Revolution that we need in our age. I urge you to be Chakravartins.

The Author:

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.) is an American who has been practicing Sanatana Dharma for over 35 years. He has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies and is recognized by the global Hindu community as one of the leading Hindu Acharyas (Spiritual Preceptors) in the nation. With a large international following of both Indian and Western students, Sri Acharya Ji is especially renowned for his highly authentic approach to Dharmic spirituality, his authoritative and scholarly method of teaching, and his clear emphasis on serious spiritual practice and direct experience of self-realization and knowledge of God. He has lectured on Sanatana Dharma at such prestigious institutions as Harvard University, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, Northwestern, as well as for such Fortune 500 companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology. He is the Founder and President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society.

His primary websites are:

Please help us spread this message far and wide. If you found this article helpful to you in your own understanding of the spiritual path, please forward it on to others so that they too may derive spiritual benefit.