In its noun form, the Sanskrit term guru means “one who shares knowledge,” while as an adjective it means “heavy” or “weighty” in reference to spiritual knowledge. Some have suggested that the separate syllables guand rurefer to dark and light, with the role of the guru being to impart the light of transcendental knowledge. Regardless of etymology or specific definition, the relationship between guru and disciple is commonly one of the guru as the disciple’s ultimate source of learning or awakening, which is said to be viable only if the guru is genuine and the disciple obedient and devoted to the guru’s teachings. Rather than questioning the guru’s understandings or methods, the disciple must only absorb them in practice.
One might find a sense of spiritual, paternal, or maternal comfort in the care of a guru or other spiritual guide who provides answers to all of the most basic or deepest questions of daily life. In explaining the benefits she has found in following a guru, a follower of ParamahansaYogananda states that in having a guru, you “stop seeking and searching various paths and you have this one goal that you can wholeheartedly follow, trusting your guru to take you to the final goal of Yoga.” Surely there are many people for whom this resonates, particularly those who feel the need for a certain path along which any difficulties can be clearly explained through an appeal to the beliefs or liturgy of the guru. Surrendering completely to the wisdom and authority of the guru, believing wholly in the guru’s teachings and thus feeling more fully the claimed truth of the one path, one might find liberation from routine distractions that allows a sense of purity in one’s practice. Surrendering to a guru can also be problematic, especially if the guru abuses his or her power, which some observers have cogently argued is a common tendency in the guru-disciple relationship.