In Search of the Real Guru

The auspicious day of guru-purnima is a remarkable day of spiritual force to accelerate the whole inner process of preparation for finding the true Guru and to be in constant communion with him. Herein lies the deeper significance of the celebration of guru purnima. To commemorate this day we present here this write up that highlights the significance of the real Guru and brings out many important aspects of guru-tattwa.

By Dr Sampadananda Mishra Professor at Rashtram

In Indian tradition Guru is at the source of all spiritual sadhana. Every aspect of the inner discipline depends upon Guru. And the Guru appears in one’s life when there is enough readiness, purity and intensity in seeking. The Guru, high of soul and full of compassion, not only initiates the disciple and receives his adoration, but holds himself responsible for the spiritual welfare of the disciple, takes upon himself the burden of his destiny, and lays open to him his own resources of the spirit and mind. Therefore Guru is ‘mahan’ or great.

Who is a Guru?

The Guru, essentially, is a spiritual father who takes the disciple in his own being, fills him with his consciousness, and makes him a permanent part of himself. The Guru embodies the Truth to be realized, and thus he has the power to communicate the Truth to the disciple. The Guru is all as he can give all.

To the disciple there is nothing greater than Guru – नास्ति गुर्वधिकं तत्त्वम् nāsti

gurvadhikaṃ tattvam, says the Kularnava Tantra 3.113. [1]

A Guru is the one who consciously carries the intense living presence of the Divine within him and it is this presence that makes a guru the real Guru. In a true sense, the Guru is a channel or representative or the manifestation of the Divine. And in our tradition, the real Guru is regarded as none other than the Divine himself. 

A Guru is the one who by his inner power can dispel the darkness, remove the ignorance and lead the initiate to the realm of Light, Truth and Bliss. As a father, he is the protector, like a mother he is the giver of new birth, like a friend he makes his disciples comfortable and brings joy to their faces. 

In ancient India, it was a Rishi who was revered as the real Guru and who expressed all divine qualities in his character and personality.

A Guru is the one who, by the power of his tapasya, has attained a certain level of perfection from which he can command.  As he is in possession of light and truth, he has the power to destroy all that creates hindrances on the path of progress; he has the power to create something new which can help bring changes to the individual as well as the collective consciousness. 

Why is he called Guru?

The one who has risen above and has gained much wisdom and is heavy with knowledge and experience carries a dignified personality, heavy with the heaviness of light and truth, is called the Guru which literally means heavy. A Guru is not only rich in experience but also is intensely grounded and well-founded in the highest state of his consciousness. So he is extremely heavy and unshakable as a mountain. In its root sense, the word Guru also means one who describes and narrates. As a realised person the Guru knows the truth and can narrate it with all pristineness to all those who approach him with purity and sincerity. The Guru is also all-compassionate. By his compassionate glance, he removes the dryness of his disciples and makes them swim in the ocean of Ananda. To drench is also another meaning of the root sound from which the word Guru is derived.

What force works in a Guru?

It is the Divine force alone that works through the Guru. The Guru lives in the Divine and carries the intense presence of the Divine in him. He makes himself a true channel of the Divine and his complete openness to the Divine allows the Divine shakti to flow through him for doing its work. The Guru does not allow anything of his own to interfere in the work of the Divine. The force that works in the Guru is ‘Impersonal or Superpersonal and Infinite’. 

How does a Guru function?

Though a Guru functions with utter simplicity yet it is extremely difficult to understand his ways of functioning. He is simple yet looks very complicated to the ordinary consciousness as he functions at various levels and he has not a single way to show to everyone. As a knower of truth, he knows what way is good for what or whom. Therefore he has no method yet he uses every method. At least the real Guru does not use a set method. His method varies from person to person, place to place and time to time. The real Guru uses, as Sri Aurobindo has explained it in his Synthesis of Yoga [2], the triple ways of awakening, example and influence. He always seeks to awaken much more than instructing in any manner. 

In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “He will seek to awaken much more than to instruct; he will aim at the growth of the faculties and the experiences by a natural process and free expansion. He will give a method as an aid, as a utilisable device, not as an imperative formula or a fixed routine. And he will be on his guard against any turning of the means into a limitation, against the mechanising of process. His whole business is to awaken the divine light and set working the divine force of which he himself is only a means and an aid, a body or a channel.” [3]

By example it does not mean the outer behaviour or character but the dynamic realisation that the Guru has. The real Guru organises every aspect of his life around the central realisation of the Truth that he has. It is that which must attract the disciples to follow for their own inner growth. 

Influence means the Guru’s power of inner contact, his presence, and how he silently infuses into the disciples all that he himself is and all that he possesses. “This is the supreme sign of the Master. For the greatest Master is much less a Teacher than a Presence pouring the divine consciousness and its constituting light and power and purity and bliss into all who are receptive around him.” [4]

Because of the intense divine presence that he carries, a sadguru is revered as the Divine himself: 

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णु: गुरुर्देवो महेश्वर:। 

गुरु: साक्षात् परंब्रह्म तस्मै श्री गुरवे नम:।। 

gururbrahmā gururviṣṇuḥ gururdevo maheśvaraḥ. 

guruḥ sākṣāt paraṃbrahma tasmai śrī gurave namaḥ..


What are the signs and symptoms of a Sadguru?

A real Guru has all the divine qualities manifest in him. He always carries a deep silence in every aspect of his personality. This silence is not a passive silence, but it is filled in with pure dynamism. A sadguru is dynamic in all aspects and operates from the inner state of silence. This is a prominent symptom of a sadguru. A sadguru has no fear, nor does he inflict fear in any. He is all compassionate, well balanced, impartial, full of harmony, and most importantly, he shines by his own inner realisation. The intense Divine presence that he carries within speaks of his greatness more than his outer appearance. 

What power does a Guru have and how does he use his power?

Infinite is the right word to describe the power of a sadguru. The infinite power of a sadguru is never used by him for showcasing himself. He uses his power to elevate others who come in contact with him and are open to him and are receptive enough to receive all that he can bring from the realms of higher worlds of Light and Truth. His power is dedicated to the welfare of all in the world. So a real Guru who is none other than the Divine himself is always engaged in doing good to all सर्वभूतहिते रतः sarvabhūtahite rataḥ. A real Guru has the power to see the past, present and future and is thus known as a trikāladraṣṭā. He not only has the power of knowledge and wisdom but he can command knowledge whenever needed. He is also as powerful as a heroic warrior and can exercise his power to destroy the enemies who work against dharma. A real Guru is not just a transmitter of tradition but he has the power to break the tradition if necessary and create a new one. He has the power to transcend all limitations and have direct access to the superior modes of knowledge and act from the higher states of consciousness. He has the power to enter into the very consciousness of the disciple and lead him on the path for the attainment of higher realisations of Truth. He uses the power of Mantra for initiation and has the power of spontaneous influence that flows from his inmost being. He has the power to teach in silence, without uttering a single word.  

चित्रं वटतरोर्मूले वृद्धाः शिष्या गुरुर्युवा ।

गुरोस्तु मौनं व्याख्यानं शिष्यास्तु छिन्नसंशयाः ॥

citraṃ vaṭatarormūle vṛddhāḥ śiṣyā gururyuvā .

gurostu maunaṃ vyākhyānaṃ śiṣyāstu chinnasaṃśayāḥ


The infinite power of a real Guru is indeed indescribable and beyond any comparison. That is the reason a Guru is given the highest reverence in our culture.

Why do we worship Guru?

In India, the Guru is seen as the Divine himself, and as the all-powerful who can create like Brahma, the Supreme Creator, sustain like Vishnu, the Supreme Preserver, and destroy like Shiva, the Supreme Destroyer. This is the reason that his presence spontaneously evokes the sense of reverence in the seeker who opens himself to the Guru and surrenders completely, sings his virtues, follows his ways, serves him with all sincerity and worships him as his Ishta-devatā. 

From the perspective of sādhanā there is a necessity for every aspiring soul to use a name and form of the Divine who is essentially nameless and formless. Also this nameless and formless Divine is inconceivable and hard to grasp by the man who is limited by many limitations. Man’s limited nature is incapable of conceiving the one who is not just All but beyond All. So there is a necessity for the aspiring man to image the Divine in some form which is seizable by his feelings and his intelligence. It’s also natural to the human being that he ‘calls for a human intermediary so that he may feel the Divine in something entirely close to his own humanity and sensible in a human influence and example.’ Sometimes this can be an avatara or a prophet or teacher of the past. But ‘it is only the few who can make the past Teacher and his teaching, the past Incarnation and his example and influence a living force in their lives’. Therefore there is a need for a living Guru with whom the aspiring man can be in touch with and be guided by him. It is therefore in our tradition so much importance is given to the Guru who deserves to be held in all reverence and needs to be worshipped with all sincerity and purity. It is the Guru who by the power of his realisations and wisdom that he possesses can act as a perfect guide in connecting the disciple with the Divine and making him realise the Divine in himself. 

What is the right way to approach a Guru?

The right way to approach a Guru is the way that Satyakama approached Haridrimata Gautama [7], the way Nachiketa approached Yama [8], the way Maitreyee approached Yajnavalakya [9], the way Narada approached Sanatkumar [10], the way Arjuna approached Bhagavan Srikrishna, the way Ganapati Muni approached Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, the way Baiju Babra had approached Swami Haridas: this is just to mention a few from the endless ocean of such stories.

A seeker must stand before his Guru with all emptiness, like a naked child free from all hesitation and shrinking, like an empty vessel in which the Guru can pour his wisdom drop by drop till it gets filled. There has to be an intense inquisitiveness for rising higher and higher, like a flame rising up and up. There has to be utter sincerity, intense purity, there has to be unflinching faith in the Guru, there has to be complete self-giving and surrender. If one approaches a Guru with all these, one succeeds in one’s inner search. 

What is the true relationship between Guru and Shishya?

A Guru encompasses or holds the disciple within him and makes him unite with his consciousness. In a deeper sense, the Guru and the disciple live in one consciousness. Like a mother, the Guru carries the disciple in the womb of his consciousness before he gives him birth to the life of the spirit (gururmātā). Like a father, the Guru protects and sustains the disciple in all possible ways (guruḥ pitā). He swallows the weakness and ignorance of the disciple and fills him with the immensity of Light, Truth and Wisdom. The Guru also is an intimate friend of the disciple who feels comfortable and never hesitates to share anything with his Guru (guruḥ sakhā).

The tradition of an eternal relationship of the Guru and shishya, and the importance that has been given to this relationship, continues in this land of India from time immemorial. This relationship of Guru and Shishya is so intensely reciprocal that it is not just a Shyshya who keeps looking for a real Guru, here the Guru also is in search of a real Shishya. We see here not just Nachiketa approaching Yama saying वक्ता चास्य त्वादृगन्यो न लभ्यो vaktā cāsya tvādṛganyo na labhyo – where can I find a Guru like you who has the command over such secret knowledge – [11], we also see Yama saying त्वादृङ नो भूयान्नचिकेतः प्रष्टा tvādṛṅ no bhūyānnaciketaḥ praṣṭā – O Nachiketas where can I find a disciple like you who deviates not from his seeking the Truth [12]. 

A Guru makes a prayer seeking the right disciples: 

May the Brahmacharins come unto me. Swaha! From here and there may the Brahmacharins come unto me. Swaha! May the Brahmacharins set forth unto me. Swaha! May the Brahmacharins attain selfmastery. Swaha! May the Brahmacharins attain to peace of soul. Swaha! [13]

And together the Guru and the Shishya pray for their inner growth and for their protection:

ॐ सह नाववतु । सह नौ भुनक्तु । सहवीर्यं करवावहै ।

तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु । मा विद्विषावहै ।।

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः।।

om saha nāvavatu । saha nau bhunaktu । sahavīryaṁ karavāvahai ।

tejasvi nāvadhītamastu । mā vidviṣāvahai ।।

om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ।।


OM. Together may He protect us: together may He possess us: together may we make unto us strength and virility! May what we have studied be full to us of light and power! May we never hate! OM. Peace! Peace! Peace!


Ultimately, it is the Divine presence within oneself who must become the real guide and Guru of oneself. But, it is difficult for a seeker to come in direct contact with this inner presence as there are many thick layers that distance him from his real Self. The external Guru, who himself is in contact with this Divine presence within, knows how to remove the layers and establish the connection with the real Guru within. In this whole process, the external Guru is just one of the four aids needed for attaining the supreme goal.

कालेन पादं लभते तथार्थं ततश्च पादं गुरुयोगतश्च।

उत्साहयोगेन च पादमृच्छेच्छास्त्रेण पादं च ततोऽभियाति ।। 

kālena pādaṃ labhate tathārthaṃ tataśca pādaṃ guruyogataśca.

utsāhayogena ca pādamṛcchecchāstreṇa pādaṃ ca tato’bhiyāti ..


In the words of Sri Aurobindo:

“Yoga-Siddhi, the perfection that comes from the practice of Yoga, can be best attained by the combined working of four great instruments. There is, first, the knowledge of the truths, principles, powers and processes that govern the realisation—śāstra. Next comes a patient and persistent action on the lines laid down by this knowledge, the force of our personal effort—utsāha. There intervenes, third, uplifting our knowledge and effort into the domain of spiritual experience, the direct suggestion, example and influence of the Teacher—guru. Last comes the instrumentality of Time—kāla; for in all things there is a cycle of their action and a period of the divine movement.”


Indeed, the land of India has given birth to countless real Gurus who have not only created a great foundation of her culture but have paved surest paths walking on which one can realise the highest goals of one’s life. It is the sacrifice of the Gurus himself for their disciples and for the good of the world that always evoke a deep sense of gratitude and reverence for the Gurus. And this tradition of revering the Gurus continues in India to date and will continue for ages to come.

श्रीगुरवे नमः

śrīgurave namaḥ


  1. Kularnava Tantra, Edited by Taranatha Vidyaratna, Published by Motilal Banarasi Das, Delhi, 1975, pg 39
  2. Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Volume 23, pages 61, 66
  3. Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Volume 23, page 67 
  4. Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Volume 23, page 67 
  5. Gurugita, 1.58
  6. Sri Dakshinamurti Stotram of Shankaracharya, 12
  7. Chandogya Upanishad, 4.4 – 4.8
  8. A Dialogue with the God of Death, Kathoponishad
  9. Brihad Aranykaka Upanishad, 2.4
  10. Chandogya Upanishad, 7.1-26
  11. Kathopanishad 1.1.22
  12. Kathopanishad, 1.2.9
  13. Taittirya Upnishad, Shikshavalli, 4.1
  14.  Mahabharata, Udyogaparva, 44:16 
  15. Mahabharata, Udyogaparva, 44:16 
  16. Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Volume 23, page 53
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