What is a Guru?

Guruji and Yoga Bhajan, photo courtesy of Laura Drewes (Jupiter)

Guruji and Yoga Bhajan, photo courtesy of Laura Drewes (Jupiter)

“You have to understand the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to do something which will live forever.” -Yogi Bhajan

Possibly one of the most misunderstood concepts in modern, American Yoga is the concept of “Guru.”  But I understand why it is misunderstood.  For one,  a Guru is not exactly someone who can be easily explained.  For another, it is a classical Indian concept – but one that cannot be taken out of the lineage of Yoga.

Because our prevalent culture is so entrained by Hollywood to “follow” and “fan” every pop icon mass promoted by publicity machines, there’s also a confusion as to the difference between “worship”, “fan-dom” and “disciple-ship” to a Guru.

I did not understand what a Guru was until I stepped on the grounds of Ananda Ashram in 2001.  At this point, I had been practicing and studying Yoga, meditation, Tibetan Buddhism and just diving “head-first” (as I was wont to do) into any form of practice that felt in any way, REAL.

And I’m not going to answer the great mysteries of what exactly a Guru is in this here wee blog post, but I’ll have to tell you this:  somehow at the end of the weekend at the Ashram, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

So what exactly was I looking for?

My Self.


Infinite, undying love.

Infinite, undying love for the Self.

Ain’t that something?

Somehow in the eyes of the photos of this man pictured (on the left, a man named Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D. and called Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, but whom most know as ‘Guruji’ or ‘Doctorji’) – I found a path way.  A path way to what?  To the bliss in my own Heart of hearts.  The other man pictured is another great teacher and friend of Guruji’s – Yogi Bhajan.

Guruji has a booklet – you’ll have to purchase it at Ananda Ashram as it’s not online anywhere.  It answers this very question – “What is a Guru?”  And he explains so beautifully that you won’t find an “outer Guru” until you have found your  “inner Guru”.

So all the “Guru” business in the world is hogwash in the light of the awakening of the inner Self.  Any Guru who needs you around to exclaim his or her position in the world as “Guru” is no Guru, my friends.

Let’s look at the word from its Sanskrit etymology.  “Gu” means darkness, heaviness or goo.  And “Ru” means remover.  So one can translate the word as “remover of darkness” or “remover of heaviness.”  The other translation is simply “heaviness.”  The Guru is so heavy-duty, you can’t pry them from their meditative seat, metaphorically speaking.  The Guru is the heaviness of Gold.  The Guru is the goldmine within.

If I am saying – oh “I have a Guru.”  What does this mean?  It doesn’t mean that I’m special or chosen or God-forbid HOLIER THAN THOU.  It means that I’m forever in the Hot Seat, actually.  It means that I understand that every thought, action, heart beat, pulsation, and choice I make is Guided.  And the utter truth of it is, I can either blind myself to the Guidance and ignore it, or I can be in the flow of the Guru’s Guidance.  It’s as simple as that.

But every “outer Guru” who is worth any ounce of the title “Guru” is only pointing you back to your own inner wisdom,  your “inner guiding light.”   A true Guru will never make you a dependent sycophant.  He/she will work yo’ ass, lovingly, patiently, incessantly, lifetime after lifetime until you get “it.”  “It” being nirvana, enlightenment, kaivalyam, Ananda, paradise (all these words that can’t capture ‘IT’).

Notice that throughout this blog post, I write the word “Guru” with a capital “G.”  It’s a little bit of how I discern between this and the other meaning of “guru” – in straight up modern day Americanese – which sounds more like this:  “Goo-rooo”  or in Texas, “Guuu-ruu” — the “r’s” are rolled nearer to the lips in American English.  The other meaning of “guru” – lower-case – is simply “teacher.”  One who teaches.   And everyone is a “guru.”  And one can have many “Gurus” with a capital “G.”  My mom calls it my “Guru of the Week.”  Who’s your Guru of the Week? She likes to ask me.

How do I know that Guruji is my Guru?  Let’s look at it this way:  it’s kinda like how you always know who your parents are.  They just are your parents, biological, adopted, whatever.  You can’t sever the connection even if you tried.  And this relationship with a Teacher we explain as the relationship to the “Sat-Guru” – the True Teacher – the one who somehow in your deepest, darkest, craziest hours – still hangs out to pull you out of the muck.

And how do I know it is Guruji?  I actually don’t know.  I just know.  What a mystery.

But having grown up in the United States, these concepts are so foreign.  And I think we ought to really be careful with them.  It’s a tremendous mystical experience to have a relationship with a Guru.  And Gurus don’t necessarily teach “directly” or in ways that are obvious.  I often associate my relationship with  Guruji, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, as that with a loving, but ferocious lion or with fire.  Mere words.  So difficult to even try to explain, but here it is because gosh darn it, many of you ask.   And here’s the other mystery, I have not been with him in physical form (in this lifetime).  I first went to Ananda Ashram in 2001, and he left his body (died) in 1993.

So first seek the inner light of the Self within, and if you see the Guru on the road, challenge him or her.  If He/She is worth a grain of salt, they won’t twitch at a challenge.  They’ll welcome every single one with open, loving, gigantic atmospheric, cosmic bear hugs.  And a whole heck of a lot of Silence.  Deep, everlasting, peaceful, meditative Silence.

May we be inspired by all of our teachers to know our own glorious Being.

Om shantih om,




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