Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

Chapter Three: Consciousness and the Concept of Guru in South Asian Spiritual and Artistic Traditions: Contemporary Relevance and Future Potential

Academic journal article Consciousness, Literature & the Arts

Chapter Three: Consciousness and the Concept of Guru in South Asian Spiritual and Artistic Traditions: Contemporary Relevance and Future Potential

Article excerpt

The term and the concept of Guru

Chapter Three widens the perspective to non-Western theatre and performance contexts in its reassessment of the role of the teacher, or guru, for the actor. Much of the evidence in this chapter is based on subjective and anecdotal evidence, demonstrating the importance of this approach to my argument.

The term guru is today used in a confusingly wide range of contexts. Entering guru into the internet search engine Google yields around 434 million hits-there is a guru for everything these days: is the world's largest online marketplace for freelance talent, is a site for computer programming, and provides its user with instant facts from over one hundred reliable reference works. The Times Higher Education Supplement called Professor Steven Schwartz, then vice-chancellor of Brunei University, UK, the government's fair access guru, and referred to the job of "guest lecturer" as a "curious cross between tour guide and resident guru". Sky News called the marketing manager of the University of Kingston, UK, a clearing guru. The leaders of what academics and journalists alike have come to call New Religious Movements are referred to as gurus, and accounts here vary from critical assessments, anti-cult warnings and escapee reports.

Gurus in this wider context can be persons or software packages, offering, charging for, and allegedly providing knowledge, information and help. In one sense or another, they are teachers. In some cases, reference to such a living or computer teacher as guru has a negative connotation, implying at least the potential of charlatanism. Some experts thrive on the debunking of charlatans, such as Robert Wiseman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. The negative connotation might also imply, to varying degrees, an element of ridicule, an accusation that the so-called guru is self-appointed, questioning or even denying any acknowledged authority that could have conferred guru status to a person credited with that title by others, or who credit themselves. Is it surprising that most gurus today are men?

Such profusion and confusion of uses and implications of the concept of guru necessitates a reassessment in the context of consciousness studies as relating to ways of communicating knowledge characteristic of the relationship between guru and student. The term originates in South Asian spiritual and artistic traditions, where the guru is the teacher who imparts to the disciple knowledge (in theory and practice) relating to a specific spiritual tradition or form of art, but extending beyond this to aspects of daily life.

History of Guru in the South Asian spiritual traditions

Historically, in Vedic times the texts refer to the acharya, teacher, and the brahmacharin, disciple. Later, the term used for the disciple is shishya. The shishya lives in the acharya's ashram (a kind of monastery), starting as early as aged five, and staying for up to twenty-four years. The brahmacharins serve their acharya, and receive knowledge from them. According to Broo, the main purpose of the master-disciple relationship in Vedic times was the transmission of knowledge to maintain the Vedic canon. Different families were experts in different Vedic texts, knowledge of whose recitation was imparted to the disciple (Broo 2003: 73). In Upanishadic times (800400 BCE), the focus of the guru's teaching was the knowledge surrounding the concepts and experiences of Atman and Brahman, individual and universal self, and ways of understanding and realising that both are one. It was probably more difficult to find a guru than in Vedic times because the guru was expected to have gained moksha, enlightenment, and it is difficult for those on the path to that goal to assess a potential guru's level of self-realisation. The guru in this era also has more authority (Broo 2003: 74-5). Shankara, in the 9th century CE, moved the guru - disciple relationship away from the family context of the ashram into monasteries he founded, mathas, where the focus was on the jagadguru, the guru of the world (Broo 2003: 75). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.