“Tamaso Mā Jyotirgamaya”- Finding a Guru in Modern Times

– Dr. Aparna (Dhir) Khandelwal and Prof. Bal Ram Singh

Knowledge is a supreme reality that is not limited to experience, education, reasoning and practice. It is an awareness, or understanding of facts that helps in awakening the intellect of a person for making one wise, and use that wisdom (बुद्धि) to pursue naturally the purpose of life through चित्त, अहंकार (अस्तित्व), and महत (the supreme mind) according to the Sankhya Darśan. The mahat concept is the gateway to understanding the brahm (ब्रह्म), the ultimate seat of the knowledge. Thus, a journey of this kind requires training, practice, guidance, and ultimately the sākśātkār (साक्षात्कार) or darśan. An important individual who effectively guides in this journey is known as ‘Guru’. Since Vedic era the word ‘Guru’ is well recognised in various texts like Muṇdaka Upaniṣad (1.2.12), Śvetāśvetara Upaniṣad and Advayatāraka Upaniṣad.

Literally, ‘Guru’ word is constructed from two Sanskrit words, gu (गु) and ru (रु), gu (गु) means dark, ignorance, superficial, confusion, etc., depending on the context, and ru (रु) means to break, to remove, to end, deeper/heavier, or enlighten. Guru-Gītā, a Hindu scripture (Guru Gītā is a spiritual text originally constructed by Sage Vyasa, and narrated again in  the Sakanda Purāṇa where the nature of the guru and the guru/disciple relationship is described in the form of a dialogue between Śiva and Pārvatī). Śiva narrated the etymological derivation of the word ‘guru’ that is based on the syllables gu (गु) and ru (रु), and their meanings in different contexts. According to Wikipedia, there are different versions of Guru-Gita ranging in verses from 100 to 400. According to a Guru-Gita following verses are directly defining the term Guru. It is interesting to note that the primary meaning of the gu (गु) as dark and ru (रु) as the remover is retained to describe the concepts of the ślokas. –

गुकारश्चान्धकारो हि रुकारस्तेज उच्यते |

अज्ञानग्रासकं ब्रह्म गुरुरेव न संशयः||33||

‘गु’ शब्द का अर्थ है अंधकार (अज्ञान) और ‘रु’ शब्द का अर्थ है प्रकाश (ज्ञान) | अज्ञान को नष्ट करने वाला जो ब्रह्मरूप प्रकाश है, वह गुरु है | इसमें कोई संशय नहीं है |

 In this translation the physical reality of dark is removed by the physical element of light, and that is then metaphorically used to indicate that the guru removes the ignorance by eating it away (grāsakam), means destroying it permanently.

गुकारश्चान्धकारस्तु रुकारस्तन्निरोधकृत् | 

अन्धकारविनाशित्वात् गुरुरित्यभिधीयते ||34||

‘गु’ कार अंधकार है और उसको दूर करनेवाल ‘रु’ कार है | अज्ञानरूपी अन्धकार को नष्ट करने के कारण ही गुरु कहलाते हैं |

Here the guru is presented as someone who does not allow the darkness to continue, in other words the guru destroys it. Implications are here that the guru is a dynamic personality who can spot, assess, and prevent the ignorance from continuing.

गुकारः प्रथमो वर्णो मायादि गुणभासकः |

रुकारोऽस्ति परं ब्रह्म मायाभ्रान्तिविमोचकम् ||36||

‘गुरु’ शब्द का प्रथम अक्षर ‘गु’ माया आदि गुणों का प्रकाशक है और दूसरा अक्षर ‘रु’ माया की भ्रान्ति से मुक्ति देनेवाला परब्रह्म है |

Here guru is projected as someone who removes confusion from the illusionary māyā. Two points worth noting are (1) gu (गु) here is presented as the promoter of illusion by highlighting its qualities or features; and (2) ru (रु) means not just a remover of the confusion from this illusion but doing this from the perspective of the parbrahm (परब्रह्म), meaning after attaining that status.

Thus, a guru is a very dynamic personality who can provide guidance to his/her disciple (शिष्य) under a variety of natural and artificial (illusionary) conditions of activities to develop wisdom and vivek in the pursuits of the ultimate goals of life.  

The attributes of guru have to be such that such a dynamism in developing the disciple is readily feasible. Some of those attributes are described under stanzas on ‘आचार्यलक्षणम्’ in Śukla Yajurveda’s Advayatāraka Upaniṣad (an ancient Sanskrit text on Yoga), as outlined below.

आचार्यो वेदसम्पन्नो विष्णुभक्तो विमत्सरः ।

योगज्ञो योगनिष्ठश्च सदा योगात्मकः शुचिः ॥14॥

A truly competent teacher is, armed with Vedic knowledge, a devotee of Viśṇu to mean that the guru has full knowledge of the causal world, free from envy/jealousy through the knowledge, devotion, and practice of yoga. This is important for a guru so that there is no envy with the disciple, providing total devotion to the guidance of the of the disciple.

गुरुभक्तिसमायुक्तः पुरुष्ज्ञो विशेषतः ।

एवं लक्षणसम्पन्नो गुरुरित्यभिधीयते ॥15॥

He should be devoted to his own guru, meaning continues to remain a śiṣya in practice, thus being able to develop the camaraderie with his own disciple, is particularly well versed with the knowledge of puruśa and prakriti, the source and expressive powers of the universe, He who possesses various types of  such virtues is designated as a guru.

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्यात् रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः ।

अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात् गुरुरित्यभिधीयते ॥16॥

The syllable gu (signifies) darkness. The syllable ru (signifies) the destroyer of the darkness. By the reason of the ability to destroy darkness he is called a guru.

गुरुरेव परं ब्रह्म गुरुरेव परा गतिः ।

गुरुरेव परा विद्या गुरुरेव परायणं ॥17॥

The guru alone is the supreme absolute brahm. Guru alone is the supreme way. Guru alone is the master of parā (as opposed to only aparāvidyā. Guru alone is the supreme and last resort.

गुरुरेव परा काष्ठा गुरुरेव परं धनं ।

यस्मात्तदुपदेष्टाऽसौ तस्माद्गुरुतरो गुरुरिति ॥18॥

The guru alone is the limit of all knowledge. The guru alone is the ultimate wealth. He is the teacher of the non-dual reality. Therefore, he is the ultimate guru.

The tradition of spiritual relationship and mentoring, where teachings are transmitted from a guru to a disciple, is known as guruśiṣya paramparā. This guruśiṣya relationship has evolved in Indian tradition since Upaniṣad era where guru and śiṣya developed resonance of thoughts and then guru transmits his knowledge to the person who respectfully sits down near him with śraddhā, in the quest for knowledge. A guruśiṣya relationship are beyond age, gender, and battlefield, as the guru can be Yama to a teenage boy Naciketā, lord Kṛśṇa to warrier Arjuna, or sage Yājñavalkya to his own wife (Gārgī / Maitreyī).

The concept of guru and Guru Purṇimā is quite old, the oldest being celebrated as the birthday of Ved Vyāsa, on the day of Aṣāḍa Purṇimā. The latest revival of Guru Purṇimā festival was done by Mahatma Gandhi in honor of his spiritual guru, Rajchandra. In its true tradition a guru does not expect anything in return from a śiṣya, and performs the imparting of knowledge as a karmayoga.  

With time, people started observing guru as a mentor, counsellor, advisor, who inculcates values in his disciples by sharing knowledge and his own experiences, and who cares about the wellbeing of his disciples. A guru, however, in its true tradition will dedicate his/her life caring about disciples spiritually, and educating them in accordance with their nature. Thus, he is an inspirational source for the spiritual evolution of the disciple. The tradition of guru runs deep in India. The entire Sikhism concept is laid down based on the the teachings of Guru. Its main scripture is called Guru Granth Sahib and the words therein called Gurbaṇī.

In present society too, we have come across many such gurus. Like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekānanda, Swami Dayānanda Saraswatī, His Holiness Dalai Lama for Buddhism, ISKCON founder A. C. Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupada for Bhakti Yoga, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for Art of living, Radha Swami, Swami Rāmdev Bābā for Yoga, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for Spirituality, and many others in such tradition. Their disciples usually refer to them as Gurudev! These spiritual leaders are kind of role models and sometimes preferred by people as an alternative to established religions to know more about divinity.

In olden days, the school or pāṭhśālā ran by guru was known as gurukula, later on in modern times they are called as āśrama, although the gurukula system of education is still in practice. Both of these are residential places of learning, without requiring any fees. Guru treats disciples or followers as part of their own family. In gurukula, students received complete knowledge of Vedic scriptures, philosophical-spiritual-medicinal-political, etc. along with various art forms, whereas in āśrama followers received spiritual preaching from their guru. Ultimately these are concentrated on such education that helps in revealing the purpose of life. While pursuing teaching or preaching, guru focuses on self-discipline among learners that result in inner perfection leading to liberation in the form of mokṣa.

Guruśiṣya tradition superficially still is observed in modern educational institutions, at least in traditional ones, where students in general pay respect to their teachers on occasions of Guru Purṇimā. Sometimes these occasions are observed in United States by Hindu groups, such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad America, and American teachers really appreciate such a devotion. The devotion to teachers, no matter where they are, is always beneficial to students, as śraddhā is critical for earning knowledge.

श्रद्धावान् लभते ज्ञानं तत्पर: संयतेन्द्रिय: |

ज्ञानं लब्ध्वा परां शान्तिमचिरेणाधिगच्छति || Bhagvadgita 4.39||

Those who are devoted and who are ready willing to control their mind and senses attain knowledge. Through such knowledge, they quickly attain everlasting supreme peace.

Thus, in Indian tradition the position of Guru is more or less same as Deva, the lord. One should be devoted to his Guru just like he is devoted to his Deva.  

यस्य देवे परा भक्तिः यथा देवे तथा गुरौ । Śvetāśvetara Upaniṣad 6.23

Will this system ever return, is it the right time for its return, can this system adapt to the modern time, can it compete with modern educational system, and will it be allowed in a time when education itself has become an over $6 trillion business? Only time will tell, but one thing is clear with forced adaptation during the Corona time, that the bluff of traditional system of institutional classroom has largely been called out! With the cost of education spiraling out of control at all levels throughout the world, the educational practices adapted during the Corona lockdown may in fact have provided the needed pause for pondering.

A trillion dollar question is whether gurus are ready to take their place! Let’s hope the answer would be YES by the next Guru Purṇimā!!

Worthy Gurus are absolutely needed!

– Dr. Aparna (Dhir) Khandelwal, Assistant Professor and Prof. Bal Ram Singh, Director, School of Indic Studies, INADS, Dartmouth, USA

9 thoughts on ““Tamaso Mā Jyotirgamaya”- Finding a Guru in Modern Times

  1. True articulation of Guru and his prowess to grow his disciples. The article is apt recongnintion of teachers on Guru Purnima. Sincere compliments for well researched paper.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. (Comments received via Wats App)

    by – Prof. Dinesh C. Shastri, Haridwar

    यह आपने बहुत ही अच्छा लेख प्रस्तुत किया है।
    by – Dr. Karuna Arya, Delhi

    The article on ‘Tamaso Mā Jyotirgamaya’ has clearly explained the importance of Guru and his proficiency in taking his/her disciples to much higher standards. This well composed article is truly suitable on this ‘Guru Purnima Day’. Also, the title of the article is apt for the Day. Hearty congratulations to both the authors on this achievement!
    by – Dr. Raghava Boddupalli, Bengaluru

    Liked by 1 person

  3. (Comments received via Email)

    Thanks for sharing the article. But while the word ‘guru’ has been assigned differently in different texts, the connotation that it is etymological will not stand scrutiny; as shown by Yaska. In my opinion, the word ‘Guru’ etymologically is derived thus.
    “Gakarena gamayati iti cha rukareNa rundhati iti cha ukaarastu avarathanasuchakaH”.
    “ग इति गमयति रु इति रुन्धति उ इति आवर्तनसुचकः (यङ्)”
    That is a teacher is one who takes the disciple forward and also stops him from going astray, continuously (always).
    This is the derivation I have shown in my book ‘The science of Hinduism”.
    by – Mr. S.R.Krishna Murthy, Bengaluru

    Dear Dr. Aparna and respected Prof . Bal Ram Singh ji,
    I am much enlightened by the essay on Guru which quotes so many beautiful verses with their meaning.
    It is a proper interpretation from the philosophical point of view which carries a deep thought on ancient Indian culture and penetrates up to the root of our life.
    Waiting for more !
    by – Dr. Soma Basu, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata

    A great assimilation of exuberant references and pristine citations. A guru in modern times has evolved to encompass not just the teacher but also the medium of teaching, the mode and the disciple oneself . What was once just a linear association of transfer of knowledge has now come a full circle with the whole world waking up to Vedic knowledge. A thoroughly researched and brilliantly articulated article , my congratulations for the same .
    by – Dr. Anju Seth, Associate Professor, Satyawati College, University of Delhi, Delhi


    • Dear Mr. Murthy, Thanks for your elaboration. It seems the meaning of guru remains with the bounds of your citation, as guru continuously stops the disciple from going astray, meaning towards wrong way by guiding. However, it will be delightful if you also commented on ga + u = gu. Does the u reflect continuity, as is implied in the cited shloka by you?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Dr. Bal Ram Singh, Definitely. When we refer to Roots like Ga (Gam), the ending ‘a’ is for ease of pronunciation (उच्चारणार्थे). The suffix u, at the end of any Pratipadika, a derivative from another noun or gerund, it stands for continuity for long. I had given two examples for its use. I cite them here again. In Valmiki Ramayana, the sage shows the exit of Rama beautifully, Rama had been told by the Kalapurusha, that his Time of Avatar was coming to an end the next day. So he marched on his last day to end his avatar. The entire people of Ayodhya, accompanied him; nay, it was not merely the people of Ayodhya, Valmiki says that even the entire flora and fauna of ayodhya, walked in a procession and drowned in ‘Sarayu’. Sarayu is no doubt the name of the River of Ayodhya. But Valmiki has employed an allegory by using the word Sarayu. You know that the root Sar is to flow,; so, Sarayu = sar + u =sarayu. = that which keeps flowing eternally. = That is time. That is to say all that are born must also exit to return to their native place; the exit that we call death. it is wrong to infer that all the people committed suicide because of the exit of Rama. It will be against the nature. So, Valmiki shows that all started the last leg of journey and drowned themselves in the flowing time. It does not say that all that happened within a matter of 12 or 24 hours of our clock!

    I had given another Vedic example from Rik. 1-164-32, that of Saranu, (सरण्यु). Root Sar = to move. saraNee = series (if sa is short) or a Road (if sa is long); because both of them are very long. Saran = moving, if this is eternal, we have to suffix ‘u’. So, saran + u = Saranyu. Deerghatamaa Maharshi says he saw Gopa, keeping moving in all directions randomly, all over the universe. The sage gives one description Anipadyamanam (अनिपद्यमानम्), which the noted commentator, the great Sayana has connotated as tirelessly (AkshuNvantam – अक्षुण्वनतम् ); which I have denounced.

    Because Gopaa is a reference to God. Sayana’s connotation leads to a meaning that Even God is subject to tiring, but in this case, he did not tire. But another, greater lapse is that fails to explain why God was roaming endlessly. was he a mad chap to while away his time endlessly? no. Then there should be a purpose. The only word that could have supplied the purpose, without which the entire verse seemed to be worse, was the Anipadyamanam, which I connotated as giving life to every particle that he touched, in his cosmic dance. अनिपद्यमानम् = aniti = praNiti, So, अनिपद्यमानम् = praaNan propayamanam. That is God was enlivening every particle that he touched bring them to life! The Vedas trumpet this in Tat Srushtvaa, tadeva anupraaviishat. [तत् सृष्ट्वा तदेव अनुप्राविशत् ]. And this Gopaa, I consider as the Electron, while God Himself, remains static in his yoga, like the Proton. Because both these science terms are derivatives of Sanskrit. Electron is Alaktra ( alak sannapi traayate iti ) and Proton is PruThu. the Prime and Standing eternally. [अलक् सन्नपि त्रायते इति अलक्त्रा : पृथु = पृ इति प्रकर्षॆण ऋतम् थु इति थुडति (संवृणुते) इति पृथुः। Proton is one comprising of Life material to a great extent.

    Thus etymology helps to a great extent in fixing the meanings of many words and even parsing them with accuracy.
    S.R.Krishna Murthy.


  5. “ Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya”-Finding a Guru in Modern Times. by Dr Aparna ( Dhir) Khandelwal and Prof. Bal ram Singh.

    “ This is most appropriately timed article about ‘Guru’on the occasion of Guru Purnima Day, by Dr Aparna ( Dhir) Khandelwal and Prof. Bal Ram Singh. In the beginning of the article the authors have given the concept of ‘Mahat’ as per Sankhya Darshan and have said that “ Journey of this kind requires training, practice, guidance and ultimately ,’ Sakshatkar’ or ‘Darshan’.An important person who gives such guidance and ultimately ‘ Sakshatkar” (which can only be experienced ) is known as ‘ Guru’.

    ‘Sankhya’, ‘Shaktya’,’ Vaishnav’ or ‘Shaiva’all these philosophical ways lead ultimately to the same ‘ Absolute’ and ‘ Guru’ has a distinct position in all these Paths of Enlightenment and Truth.The authors have given etymological interpretation of the word,’Guru’; from Guru-Geeta and some of the Upnishads, which means “ Leading from darkness to Light” therefore very aptly titled as “Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya “.

    The other important point discussed in the article is about “ Guru Shisya Parampara” i.e. guru and disciple tradition as it existed during Vedic or Post-Vedic Period and whether it can be brought about in modern times ? or whether one can find a Guru in Modern times ?The authors have given names of Gurus of modern times starting from Ramkrishna Paramhansa to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Shri Shri Ravi Shannkar and Ramdeo Baba .The disciples of these Gurus call them as Gurudev and these spiritual leaders are role models for learning more about divinity and spirituality apart from strict dogmas of established religions .They maintain that “ Guru Shisya” tradition is still being observed superficially in modern educational institutions. Students pay their respects to teachers on occasions like Guru Purnima day and these occasions are also observed in other countries by Hindu Groups. Frankly the , “Guru-Shisya “ tradition exists in a modified way at present also. As per our Shastras there are four Purusharthas to be followed , practiced and established in our life which will make us happier and also achieve the ultimate goal of life, which is , “ Self Realisation” or “ Moksha”. These Purusharthas are- Dharm, Arth, Kam and Moksha. If we see our present –day lifestyles; Arth and Kama occupy almost all our time with hardly any time for Dharm and Moksha. Therefore, we have teachers, professors, scientists, professionals who teach us , train us and prepare us to face the challenges of modern-life. They are also our Gurus and we respect them accordingly. In respect of certain areas like Vedic Pathshalas, Gurukul Educational Institutions, Art, Music etc the tradition still exists at an elevated position but still modified as per modern life-style requirements. When we start spending more time on Dharm and Moksha and spiritual aspirations are awakened, the Guru comes to you almost automatically because you have made a choice of some spiritual path, apart from your daily mundane matters. In most of the cases, including my own case, I have seen this happening almost like your destiny.When I started Agnihotra about ten years before,the linage of Guru-Parampara and my own ‘Swadhyaya’ became clearer to me in the years that followed .Param Sadguru Gajanan Maharaj of Akkalkot Dist Solapur, Maharashtra was the disciple of Swami Samarth and he had taken a sacred vow of , “ Rejuvination of Vedas” as a Guru-Dakshina to his initiator Lord Parashuram. Param Sadguru had many disciples but the main amongst them who have influenced my life are Shri Vasant Paranjpe who wrote the book, “Homa Therapy our Last Chance“ and the other Shri Dadashri alias Shri Mohanrao Jadhav.Shri Vasant whom we call as ‘Gurudeo’ is no longer there and I have not met him personally, but his book has influenced me and is still influencing many followers of Agnihotra. Shri Dadashri visits our farm to perform Rudra -Swahakar and sometimes stays with us whenever he is in India. He has many followers in USA and Canada.The other two persons who came in my life as Gurus with the blessings of Param Sadguru Gajanan Maharaj and Swami Samarth are Late Ashwmedhayaji Shri Nanaji Kale of Barshi and Shri Latkar Kaka of Aurangabad. With the blessings and guidance of these persons as Gurus I have undertaken my “Swadhyaya“ on “Agnihotra/Yajnya and their relationship with Agriculure and Environment”. Each one of these Gurus have put before me the broader vistas of my Swadhyaya. Shri Vasant has given a panoramic view of Homa Therapy and Homa Farming through his book. Shri Dadashri is giving guidance about the performance of Rudra Swahakar and other Havans. Late Ashwamedhayaji Shri Nanaji Kale introduced me to the subject of Vedic Yajniya System and Varahmihir’s Rain Conception Rain Delivery (RCRD) Theory. In fact I got associated with him for Validation of this Theory for Monsoon 2016 through “Suvrushti Project -2015-16”, in which he had organized performance of Soma Yagas and Parjanya Yagas at different places during that period prior to Monsoon 2016. Shri Latkar Kaka through his Sanchar Probodhan has put before me the subject of , “ Yajnyakarm se Muktidarshan “. I do not know to what extent I will be able to complete my Swadhyaya in remaining life ? and whether there will be ,” Muktidarshan”?

    One very interesting thing that I have observed is that each of these persons as Shisyas have written prayers/praiseworthy poems about their Gurus.The authors Dr. Aparna and Prof. Bal Ram have mentioned in the last part of their article,” Thus in Indian tradition the position of Guru is more or less same as Deva.” Param Sadguru composed,” Ashtotar Shat Namavali“ (108 names of Guru) in praise of Swami Samarth and he regards Swami Samarth as Shiva or Brahma himself. He says: “Shivah, Shivakarah, Shaiva, Brahma Vishnu Shivatmaka I Harpriya, Harirupah, Pandurangsakhasthata II11II”.

    Shri Dadashri has spontaneously composed “Guru-Stuti” of five Shlokas, he says –

    ॐ नमस्ते श्रीगुरु सर्व लोकाश्रयाय। नमस्ते सद्गुरु विश्वरूपात्मकाय॥
    नमो अद्वैत तत्वाय मुक्तिप्रदाय। नमो सद्गुरु ब्रह्मणे निर्गुणाय॥१॥

    त्वमेकं शरण्यं त्वमेकं वरेण्यम्। त्वमेकं जगत् कारणं विश्वरूपम्॥
    त्वमेकं जगत् कर्तृपाताप्रहर्ता। त्वमेकं परं निश्चलं निर्विकल्पम्॥२॥

    त्वं अचिन्त्यं अव्यक्तं परब्रह्म स्वरूपम्। त्वं अनंतं प्रशान्तं अमृतं ब्रह्मरूपम्॥
    त्वं आदिमध्यान्तरहितं चिदानन्दरूपम्। त्वं सनातनं शाश्वतं ब्रह्मरूपम्॥३॥

    जगद्गुरु विश्वकर्ता महात्मा। सदा संस्थित: हृदये मम॥
    हृदा मनीष: मनसाभिक्लृप्तो। य एतद् विदुर अमृतास्ते भवन्ति॥४॥

    त्वं ईश्वराणां परमं महेश्वरम्। त्वं देवतानां परमं च दैवतम्।
    परेशं प्रभो सर्व विश्वा प्रकाशी। भवाम्भोधिपोतं शरण्यं व्रजाम:॥
    पुनरपि शरण्यं व्रजाम:। पुन: पुनरपि शरण्यं व्रजाम:॥५॥

    Thus they have regarded Guru-Tatwa equal to ‘Shiva ‘ or ‘Para Brahma’.The state of spiritual development may have to be achieved in life to understand, ”Guru- Tatwa” and “Guru- Shisya Parampara“ in its proper perspective.


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