Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Guru and His Disciple

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Guru and His Disciple

Article excerpt

From very ancient times, the great texts that stand out like landmarks in the religious history of India--the Brahmanas, the Upanishads, the Dharma--have laid special emphasis upon the Master/Disciple relationship in all its diverse forms.

In Sanskrit, the word used for a "spiritual master" is guru. The primary meaning of guru is "heavy" or "weighty", in the sense, for example, of parents' moral weight in relation to their children or that of the eldest child in relation to younger siblings. It is from this concept that the religious meaning of the word ("venerable") derives.

In the spiritual sense, the guru teaches how to live rather than how to think, and by his moral "weight" becomes a model to follow. Faced with this spiritual power, the whole personality of the disciple is brought into question, and this is the key factor in the Master/Disciple relationship. The benevolence of the Master and the vulnerability of the Disciple are the two poles of the relationship and the determining factors in a quest which will test the Disciple's inner defences to breaking-point, but yet, going beyond considerations of personal salvation, will open up the prospect of liberation (moksha).

Living in the Master's presence will be decisive. Imitating the Master and acquiring confidence (sraddha) in him are made easier for the Disciple by the family-style life the Disciple lives with his guru in the ashram (communal religious centre), where the aim is to achieve spiritual detachment.

As the Hindu spiritual leader Vivekananda once wrote, if liberation is the objective of the Disciple's quest, the guru is the living embodiment of it. "The guru is the radiant mask that God assumes to come to us. As we look fixedly upon him, the mask falls away and God is revealed to us." The Disciple's encounter with the guru goes beyond the bounds of moral guidance. …

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