Why a guru?

“The purpose of the guru is not to weaken your will. It is to teach you secrets of developing your inner power, until you can stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”
—Paramhansa Yogananda


What is a guru?

Guru is Sanskrit for spiritual teacher. The root gu means darkness, ru its removal. Thus the guru is also “remover of darkness, bestower of light.”

People seek out experts in medicine, in the arts, in music—in nearly every field. Yet interestingly, many are reluctant to seek out experts in the field of spiritual and personal development.

One day, a woman was talking with Yogananda and remarked, “I’m afraid I am put off by this ‘guru’ concept. I believe in standing on one’s own two feet, in taking one’s own hard knocks in life and learning one’s lessons from them. What person of any character would want to gain his understanding in life through someone else?”

“What if you had your heart set on learning to pilot a plane?” Paramhansa Yogananda inquired. “Would you object to having someone show you how?”

“Well, obviously not,” replied the lady. “But I’m talking about life situations, not artificial ones. What I mean is the sort of circumstance in which any grown-up ought to be able to make an adult decision.”

“Such as how to dress for an outing without first checking the weather forecast?” teased Yogananda.

“Well,...” hesitated the lady.

“Surely it would be foolish to go through life without accepting advice from anyone.”

“Of course,” the lady agreed. “In the case of a guru, however, the disciple is forced to obey him without question, like a robot.”

Freedom to choose

“By no means!” replied Yogananda emphatically. “Any guru who demanded mindless obedience of his disciples would attract only mindless disciples. He would be given a wide berth by strong-willed devotees, who alone are fit for the path to God-realization.

“It takes great vigor, and great strength of character, to find God. No disciple is forced to obey his guru. Freedom to accept or reject is one of the first laws of the spiritual life. It is a right given to us since the time of our creation by the Lord Himself.”

The Master smiled. “Just see how many people exercise their right to reject Him for incarnations! Yet the Lord is so humble, He never forces Himself on anyone. We may reject him for eons, and the Lord, while loving us through eternity, says, ‘I will wait.’”

Roadmap to freedom

“The personality is like a dense forest, beyond which lies the beautiful, expansive land that God has promised you. To reach Him, you must somehow get out of the forest, and not waste time exploring its countless lanes.

“People have no idea how to get out of their mental forest. Every path they attempt ends in a confusion of dense undergrowth, or leads them back to where they first started out. In time, the realization dawns on them that they are lost.

“Then, if someone comes and says, ‘I know this forest well; let me show you the way through it,’ will they consider his offer a menace to their free will? Won’t they view it, rather, as an opportunity to accomplish successfully what their own will has been trying for so long, but always in vain, to accomplish?”

The purpose of a guru

“It is no favor to the guru if the student accepts him. Rather, the student must have prayed very hard, in this lifetime and in former lives, to have earned so great a blessing. God sends the seeker indirect guidance at first, through books and lesser teachers. Only when the desire for Him is very strong does He send help in the form of a Self-realized guru.”

“The purpose of the guru is not to weaken your will. It is to teach you secrets of developing your inner power, until you can stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

(excerpted from The Essence of Self-Realization, The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda, compiled by Swami Kriyananda)