The Importance of the Guru

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Guru means dispeller of darkness, and in the yoga tradition, spiritual knowledge is transmitted directly from guru to disciple, a practice dating back millennia to the time of the ancient rishis (seers). It is believed that the goal of Self-realization cannot be reached without the help from the guru or spiritual preceptor, who has already reached the goal and knows how to safely guide others to it. The greatest yogis, such as Parmahansa Yogananda, Adi Shankaracharya, and Sri Ramakrishna, all had gurus. Even Jesus had John the Baptist.


The teacher can only bring the student as far along the path as he or she has personally traveled. If one’s yoga goal is Self-realization, then a Self-realized guru or preceptor is absolutely necessary.

“The role of Guru is of the highest importance, as is the sincerity, humility, and loyalty of the student,” says my guru, Sri Dharma Mittra. “His grace enables the disciple to perceive the latent spiritual power within, and shows the doorway to the Super-consciousness,” he continues. “But it is the disciple who must step through it.”

“Many students, according to their own fancy, select their own method of Sadhana [practice] without considering the consequences,” said Swami Sivananda. “Improper diet, wrong Sadhana without a proper guide, hard and foolish austerities on a weak body, torturing the body in the name of Tapasya [austerities], have entirely ruined many aspirants. Therefore a personal Guru is necessary to give timely instructions according to the change of seasons, circumstances and progress.”

How does one know who is a true guru? The guru is often the humblest person in the room; she is the first to help and the last to be served. The guru is like a manifestation of God, embodying love and compassion and the qualities of the yogi as described in the scriptures; he/she is steeped in sattva (peace or harmony). The guru can also be a strict disciplinarian–but his or her actions are always guided by selfless love. “When Swami Vishnu-devananda met Swami Sivananda for the second time, he was either too timid or too arrogant to bow down to him; so Swami Sivananda humbly prostrated fully before Swami Vishnu-devananda, completely disarming him.

“Someone asked Maharaj-ji [Neem Karoli Baba], ‘How do I know if someone is my guru?'” writes Ram Das in Be Love Now: the Path of the Heart . “Maharaj-ji said, ‘Do you think s/he can fulfill you in every way spiritually? Do you feel s/he can free you from all desires and attachments? Do you feel s/he can lead you to final liberation?'”


The guru-disciple relationship is formalized and cemented by mantra initiation, in which the guru gives the disciple a specifically chosen mantra. The mantra creates a psychic link to the guru; the more often and sincerely the disciple performs the mantra, the stronger the bond. (My guru always says that spiritual knowledge can only be transmitted psychically.) The disciple is given a new name to help him or her shed the past and old ego-identity. The name symbolizes a rebirth in consciousness; Yogi Bhajan likened it to a prayer that calls us back to our true Self.

Written By Our Dharma Yoga Sister Kali Om.  Thank you for these beloved words of wisdom.