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Guru ( Sanskrit , m., गुरु, guru , dt. "Heavy, weighty") is a religious title for a spiritual teacher in Hinduism , Sikhism and Tantric Buddhism . This is based on the philosophical understanding of the importance of knowledge in Hinduism. The teacher is indispensable for the student in the search for knowledge and the path to salvation. To this day, the title has retained its significant status in India and among the followers of the faiths mentioned. In Tibetan , the title is rendered as “high” (transliterated: Blama, pronounced “ Lama ”). In the Indonesian and Sinhalese languages, guru means “teacher” today. In addition to the purely spiritual leaders, those who teach arts such as song, dance, etc. are also referred to as gurus, as these still have a very strong religious significance.

In contemporary Western parlance, the term “guru” is often used for specialists with above-average knowledge, long experience and, if necessary, charismatic aura. However, the term can also be used with pejorative pejorative or derisive meaning for people who rally followers through religious or philosophical statements.

Gurus in Hinduism

The word "guru" means "teacher" in Sanskrit and other languages ​​derived from Sanskrit such as Hindi , Bengali and Gujarati . It denotes the "bestowal" of knowledge, Vidya. The word comes from the root guru , which literally means "heavy, weighty". In Hindu scriptures themselves, the guru is interpreted as the “expeller of spiritual darkness”, Avidya .

Originally, "Guru" was the name given to the biological father who undertook the religious upbringing of his son, taught him parts of the Veda and arranged the rites of passage, the samskaras , for him . Soon, however, this task was taken over by religious specialists who, as acarya (teacher) gurus, taught the sons of the upper three castes ( Varna ) in Vedic literature, in religious and ethically-socially correct behavior , but also in the real sciences. They should be put in a position to achieve a more favorable rebirth or even an exit from the cycle of rebirths by fulfilling the Dharma .

Today, anyone is free to choose a guru without restrictions on caste or gender. The gurus come preferably, but not necessarily, from the Brahmin caste . The guru of the extremely important Hindu philosopher Shankara was a Chandala , in other words, "untouchable" in the terms of the time. Gurus are considered to be the successors of the early seers ( Rishi ) who, according to the traditional view, saw the sacred knowledge ( Veda ) supernaturally or received it from the gods. Because of their knowledge of the sacred texts and rituals, they are not only regarded as ideal religious teachers, but generally as worthy of social power and leadership.

Usually there is a lineage of gurus. The disciples of a guru are called Shishya (Sanskrit "one who is to be disciplined , should be instructed") or Chela . A guru often lives in an ashram . The lineage of a guru is known as Guru Parampara ("guru tradition") and is to be spread by worthy students who carry on the message of their guru. Some Hindu denominations, such as the Swaminarayan Sanstha , hold that a personal relationship with a living guru is necessary in order to attain moksha , liberation. In the traditional sense, the word describes a relationship. Only with “Guru” do the students address their master.

According to ancient Hindu tradition, one should ideally go through four stages in the course of one's life, the first of which is that of the Veda student ( brahmacari ), followed by the stage of the housekeeper and head of the family, then the stage of a forest hermit and finally that of the world-renouncing wandering ascetic , Samnyasin . The disciple was bound to his acarya guru and his family by a vow of loyalty until the end of his life, but was allowed to change guru with his consent. This system provided the ideal, but in modern times it was no longer practiced. On the other hand, there is still a samskara, the consecration of the male child, which marks the ritual “rebirth” under the spiritual fatherhood of the guru. The boy is thus a "twice-born" (Dvija) and has access to the Vedic tradition. In the past he usually lived in the house of the guru for at least twelve years during his student days. Although the guru was not allowed to demand payment for his teachings, it was quite common for the student to contribute to the economic basis of the master household, to which he belonged, by working and to thank him at the end of his apprenticeship with an appropriate gift. If the student became a steward, it was not uncommon for his son to teach with the same guru or his successor. Often times gurushhops were hereditary.

The guru's words to his disciple at the induction ceremony are similar to those of the groom to the bride at the wedding, just as the disciple's overall relationship to the guru was originally similar to that of the wife to her husband, who was traditionally her guru. Consequently, the student's duties also included doing household chores and other services that are usually assigned to the wife. The student has faithfulness and unconditional obedience to his teacher, in most cases even showing divine respect. Guru murder is valued like parricide, sexual intercourse with the guru's wife like incest and has corresponding karmic consequences.

As the ascetic movement grew in popularity, the samnyasin guru type became distinct from the other guru types. A new dimension in the authority gradient showed in the newly emerging name for the student, Sisya . While the Acarya Guru was in principle still fallible and could be criticized, since he also appeared as a teacher of the real sciences, the Samnyasin Guru embodies the Jivanmukta , even the Absolute, who was already liberated during his lifetime and is therefore considered infallible. Through renunciation of the world and ascetic discipline he should reach supersensible powers and convey salvation to his students on his own and awaken the knowledge slumbering in them. The samnyasin guru is free from any caste or family ties and can accept students from any origin. He often lives in close communion with his students, either on a journey away from civilization or withdrawn in an ashram. Since the path to liberation is sometimes considered to be dangerous, the guru must have special educational skills and may also employ unusual means to reveal to his students the conventionally not communicable absolute truth.

In the Bhakti and Tantra tradition, the guru is seen as an avatara (Sanskrit "descent"), as a (partial) embodiment of the deity (sadguru) and as such is on a par with or even above the deity, as identical with absolute truth and the highest being. “The guru is father; the guru is mother; the guru is the god Shiva . When Shiva is angry, the Guru is the savior; but if the guru is angry, no one remains for salvation ” (Kularnava-tantra XII, 49, quoted from Steinmann 1986, 100). True love and total devotion to the Sad-Guru should be able to overcome all wrongdoing according to the belief of his followers. The belief in a direct transfer of power and salvation from the sad guru to the student plays a central role. The guru is the potter who shapes and recreates his disciple.
Due to the outstanding position of the guru, traditional texts also deal with the problem of the abuse of this authority and name criteria for true and false gurus.

The use of the term "guru" can be traced back to the early Upanishads , when the idea of ​​the divine teacher on earth first appeared in early Brahmanic ideas. Indeed, there was an understanding that when a disciple was confronted with the guru and God, he should first show respect to the guru, since the guru was the instrument to lead the disciple to God.

The role of the guru in the original sense of the word is continued in Hindu traditions such as Vedanta , Yoga , Tantra and Bhakti Yoga .

Gurus in Sikhism

In Sikhism , the title "Guru" is used to denote the founders of the religious community as well as the people who developed Sikhism and made it known. The famous ten gurus of the Sikhs worked from 1469 to 1708:

  1. Guru Nanak Dev 1469-1539
  2. Guru Angad Dev 1494-1552
  3. Guru Amar Das 1479–1574
  4. Guru Ram Das 1534–1581
  5. Guru Arjan Dev 1563-1606
  6. Guru Har Gobind 1595-1644
  7. Guru Har Rai 1630-1661
  8. Guru Har Krishan 1656-1664
  9. Guru Tegh Bahadur 1621-1675
  10. Guru Gobind Singh 1666-1708

The 10th Guru determined that he would not have a physical successor, but that the sacred scripture of Sikhism, the Adi Granth , should represent the highest authority of the Sikhs after his death, which is why he was henceforth referred to as "Guru Granth Sahib" and in the worship services like a “living” guru receives honors (during the recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib he is fanned out like a king with a fan, he lies on a richly decorated pillow, etc.).

The fact that there were other gurus after the Ten Gurus is not historical. Harjot Oberoi, for example, suggests that there should have been other gurus and names Baba Khem Singh Bedi, of whom his followers spoke as the thirteenth Nanak.

As a counterpoint to Sikhism, the " Sant Nirankari Mission " founded in 1929 (a mixture of Hindu and Sikh practices / brought into being at the time of British colonial rule) is still led today by a "living" guru as a representative and mediator of divine knowledge, but what in the view of Sikhism borders on blasphemy.

Namdharis or Kukas see themselves as an integral part of the Sikh community, but believe that after the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, five more have come. Namdharis are not accepted as Sikhs by the main Sikh population.

Gurus in Buddhism

In Buddhism, especially in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism in Tibet , Guru (Sanskrit) is largely synonymous with Lama (Tibetan) and denotes spiritual teachers.

A guru never gives himself this name. Whoever accepts the lines of tradition and the teachings of a teacher as true, makes this person his guru, i.e. lama or spiritual master. Tendzin Gyatsho , the 14th Dalai Lama , said about the importance of the guru: “To be able to assess the importance of a guru, rely on his teachings. Do not show them blind faith, but also no blind criticism. ”He also pointed out that the term“ living Buddha ”is a translation of the Chinese Huófó (活佛). This corresponds to the word lama in Tibetan , which in turn means nothing more than guru .

In terms of the Buddha's original teachings and Vinaya , there is no such thing as Guru-Tum. Regarding initiation and distribution, rules have been established for this. The instructor, required at the beginning of ordination, is called the nissaya (foundation, ground), which perhaps most closely relates to the conception of guru. Another useful equivalent is found in the original teachings under the name " Kalyanamitta " (excellent friend). A guru relationship (i.e., dependent) between monastic members of the Sangha and the laity is prevented in many ways by the rules of the monks, as it leads to the corruption of the Dhamma, albeit often disregarded.

See also


  • Joel Kramer, Diana Alstad: The Guru Papers. Masks of power. Zweiausendeins Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-86150-113-9 .
  • M. Hara: Hindu Concepts of Teacher, Sanskrit guru and acarya. In: Sanskrit and Indian Studies. Essays in Honor of Daniel H. H. Ingalls. Dordrecht, 1980, pp. 93-118
  • RM Steinmann: Guru-Sisya-Sambandha. The Master-Disciple Ratio in Traditional and Modern Hinduism. Stuttgart 1986.
  • Paramahansa Yogananda: Autobiography of a Yogi . (Original Autobiography of a Yogi ) Droemer Knaur, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-426-86000-7 , page 17.

Web links

Wiktionary: Guru  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica : Guru , Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  2. Oberoi, Harjot: Conserving Sanatan Sikh Tradition: The Foundation of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha. In the S. The Construction of Religious Boundaries. Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994, 316.
  3. Questions & Answers: History of Gurus 2 (accessed February 13, 2017)
  4. (accessed February 13, 2017)
  5. Codex for Buddhist Hermits I Chapter 2 (2nd edition, 2007) Nissaya
  6. Excellent friendship kalyanamittata
  7. Economics of Gifts
  8. Codex for Buddhist Hermits I Chapter 5 (2nd edition, 2007) Saṅghādisesa