Credit: This article is based on an earlier posting by my Guru. With his permission, I am republishing it with some additional comments.
Guru has multiple meanings which include teacher, father, elder brother, heavy, big, strong, tough, famous, hard to digest etc. The one most relevant to this article is that derived from Gu and Ru; Gu means darkness or ignorance and ru means dispeller or remover. Thus Guru literally means remover of ignorance. Gurus can be male or female, old or young, and come from all backgrounds. The Guru can be an event, a book, an observation etc; an animate being, or an inanimate object that symbolizes a learning.
Do we absolutely need to have a Guru? It is possible to reach the goal in our spiritual journey without the aid of a Guru. However, it is a lot easier with the guidance of a Guru. Incidentally, when the student is ready, the Guru appears!
The Guru-disciple (Shishya) relationship is perhaps the most sacred relationship in the Hindu tradition. Right from the Vedas (Acharya Devo Bhava - Teacher is like God) to the colloquial way the youngsters address their friends across India (Khya Guru, Yenu Guru, Yenna Vaadhyare, etc.) imply how deeply the word Guru has percolated into contemporary times. A special day "Guru Poornima" is dedicated during July-August months to pay respect to Guru.
We may argue that in the ancient times there was no internet or press or phone or radio or television and the only means of communication was through word of mouth and thus the Guru-shishya tradition started. Why has it sustained right to this day?
The reason for this is that the role of Guru is more than just communication of information. The ten-fold qualities of a Guru are as follows:
1. Guru is true, simple, and direct.
2. Guru does not steal our money, instead steals only our ignorance and anxiety.
3. Guru can lead us to a spiritual path without severe asceticism.
4. Guru brings peace of a cave and the experience of solitude right to our houses.
5. Guru lets us see heights of the Himalayas and Kailash in meditation (metaphorically speaking).
6. Guru does not give us wrong advice to renounce our property and wealth of this world, instead makes us renounce our ego.
7. Guru breaths in a divine factor and help us to transform our mundane life into a sacred existence.
8. Guru bestows a new life in which we can face all sorrows cheerfully.
9. Guru strives to make us attain perfection in this very world.
10. With the guidance of a Guru, we will be able to see this world as heaven and not as a place of sorrow and suffering.
A Guru will wake us up and may even walk with us side by side, but no Guru will carry us and deliver us to the truth. That we have to do ourselves, as declared in the Bhagavadgita (Chapter 6, verse 5) thus:
BG 6.5 One should elevate oneself by one’s own efforts;
one should not degrade oneself;
indeed the self alone is one’s true friend or enemy.
Thus, the Guru is right within us as well! Patiently waiting for us to turn inward!
Guru Mantra from Guru Gita:
The Guru is Brahma; the Guru is Vishnu;
the Guru is the great God Shiva.
The Guru alone is the supreme Brahman, the absolute.
To the great Guru, I offer my salutations.
Another relevant verse from the Bhagavadgita (Chapter 4, Verse 34):
BG 4.34 You must learn that knowledge from those who have realized the truth.
You should approach them with humility, sincere enquiry, and willingness to serve.
They will impart that knowledge to you.