Advaita and the Role of the Guru on the Spiritual Path

Published: Nov 21, 2023 | Revised: Jan 10, 2024
Edited by: Marce Ferreira

Advaita and the Role of the Guru

Understanding or misunderstanding the function and role of the Advaita Guru can make or break our “spiritual path.”

And, as it’s often said in Advaita Vedanta, our misunderstanding is never the fault of the Guru, but always the fault of the student. I admit, that sounds a bit ridiculous, but nevertheless, it’s the fault of the student because the student is apparently incapable (or not yet ready) to understand “the Truth.”

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An Advaita Guru is a “self-realized” human being — a so-called Jnani — who tries to share their living experience. In Advaita, the self-realized are those who, as a direct, continuous experience, know what a human being’s natural place and functioning is in the “grand scheme of Life,” who “know themselves for what they are,” “are beyond illusion,” and moreover — who live their lives accordingly, spontaneously, and without any effort.

The Advaita Vedanta Guru is not there to say you “what to do,” but rather “what not to do” and “what not to engage in.” Basically, it’s more often than not a “negative guidance,” one that aims at taking away your concepts and opinions about yourself, the world, God or the Universe. The Guru is there to empty the vessel of weight and ballast, making you empty, clean and receptive so that you become ready to “receive the truth and overflow.” This “truth” is not something the Guru will or can “give” you; it will arise i.e. radiate spontaneously out of your inner True Self when “the vessel is ready.”

It’s important to stress here that not all self-realized Advaitins take up the role of becoming a Guru, and not all Advaita Gurus or Advaita teachers are self-realized. But then, how to know who’s an authentic Advaita Guru and who not?

Unfortunately, the answer to that is highly unsatisfactory, for the fact is that one cannot know and not recognize who’s an authentic Guru unless one has become self-realized. Additionally, when one attains Self-Realization, one doesn’t need a Guru any longer and subsequently the whole issue has become superfluous.

So, here we have it — the perfect paradox. Yet, another paradox is that there’s actually nothing to worry about. In fact, there are only two options: either we go from one Guru to the other until we’ve found the right one (and finally attain Self-Realization), or we drop all Gurus and try to find “the thing” out ourselves.

In Advaita, there’s some ambiguity around this topic, because some Advaita masters have claimed that a spiritual aspirant always needs a Guru to attain Spiritual Awakening, and others have claimed that one doesn’t necessarily need a Guru, in any case not in human form. The Guru may be Nature, a book, your work, or an animal; in fact, any particular thing may suddenly come to serve as your Guru and helps you “break through the veil of illusion (Maya).”

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Additionally, it’s often stressed in Advaita that the “expression” of the Guru doesn’t matter at all, and isn’t something one can or should use to discern if a Guru is authentic or not. That is, the Guru maybe self-conceited, sympathetic, compassionate, obnoxious, an absolute egotistic person, a butcher, a gardener, an intellectual or hand laborer, and whatnot. The idea here is that “judging” is part of duality (a judge and that what’s judged) and cannot possibly help to overcome (or transcend) duality.

There’s no better or worse to this. The only thing that will make us succeed is a continuous, burning longing for truth. A longing to know what we really are and how the live life accordingly.

When that longing, that craving, that horrible aching has become one’s only longing in life, when the search for Spiritual Enlightenment has become one’s only goal, it finally will be satisfied. It will, because being the only desire left, all other obstacles have been cleared out of the way. It will be a burning desire to succeed. Moreover, it’s in consciousness’ nature to bring about that what’s intensely desired.

When one has come to the point of actually willing “to die for the truth,” then truth will unveil itself. Truth is for the desperate ones, for those who have submitted totally, for those who see no way out, and through that — finally find their way.

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