What is a guru, and does this concept have anything to do with your yoga practice?
The idea of a guru is a fairly common concept in India, the birthplace of yoga. In the 1960’s, The Beatles brought this idea of “finding a guru” to the popular culture, as the group set off to India and began meditating with a well-known teacher/guru, all in the hope of finding enlightenment.
When most of us think of a guru, we might conjure up an image of a person with a long beard in a flowing robe. In India, gurus are said to have access to tremendous wisdom, and people seek them out for help toward an awakening. It is not uncommon for devotees to put one’s full trust and faith into a guru. Dedicated students often surrender completely, giving their guru total authority and power over their lives.
While some people make a spiritual journey to seek out a guru—an enlightened person—to help them awaken, this is not an appropriate choice for everyone. This surrender to a guru seems counterintuitive to most Western minds. Yet as time has progressed, the concept of a guru has become more commonplace in the minds of many Americans. In fact, it’s found it’s way into our vernacular, as we have been known to refer to specialists in their field as “gurus"—for example, the computer "guru" at your office, perhaps.
But what does the term guru really means? Translated, “gu” means to remove; “ru” means darkness. So the term guru relates to anything that moves us metaphorically from darkness to light, from the untruth to the truth. In fact, this term can be applied in several ways, and understanding this concept can help you personal wellness and yoga practice tremendously.
As I mentioned, the one definition most of us are familiar with is that it is an actual enlightened master who has achieved awakening and works to help others achieve it as well. Though undoubtedly there are remarkable gurus who have walked this earth, more often than not it seems that this can be a fairly slippery subject—another blog post entirely. There is a long list of many "gurus" who have shown us that, in fact, they were not enlightened very much at all, and caused great suffering for their followers.
Fortunately, and perhaps most importantly, yoga teaches us about an inner guru. This inner guru, or inner awareness and wisdom, helps us flow from darkness to light, from pain and suffering to joy and peace. At the end of the day, the choices we make about our life, our journey and our awakening, are ours. Accessing the innate wisdom of this inner guru becomes immensely helpful as we seek to apply our yoga practice to our everyday lives.
Yoga constantly reminds us that deep within our own heart lies the greatest "remover of darkness." Intentionally, many of the words used repeatedly within the framework of yoga (mantras) work to remind of us of this fact: that we have within us great resource; that we are in fact much more than we perceive ourselves to be; that this inner guru, or wisdom, is in fact the "infinite itself" manifesting as us; and that the idea that we are separated from our Creator is only an illusion.
To help clarify this point that there is no separation between us and our Creator, it can be helpful to use the metaphor of the ocean. If the Creator is the ocean, and we are its waves, consider this: Can you separate the wave from the ocean?
These ideas may be intriguing to many of us, but unless they can be applied to our daily lives, they are simply platitudes and do us no good at all. Yogi Bhajan, the kundalini yoga and meditation master who brought his lineage of yoga to the west, always said, (and I paraphrase here): "Don’t believe what I tell you. Don’t believe what you hear. Believe only in the true experience you have doing the yoga (breath, movement, mindfulness).”
According to the sages, yoga teaches us that deep within each of us are the answers to all of our questions and all of our problems. As we actually do the yoga, over time we learn mastery and have an actual experience of our higher self. Awakening then becomes a personally lived, intentional experience.
Teachers and gurus can only open the door toward an awakening, but you must walk through it by yourself. Hence, the guru is you. Who else could it be?
May your yoga practice truly bring you to an awakened state, so that you may live the life of your highest dreams.