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A guru (गुरु Sanskrit) is a Hindu religious teacher. It is based on a long line of Hindu philosophical understandings of the importance of knowledge and that the teacher, guru, is the sacred conduit to self-realization. Till today in India and among people of Hindu or Sikh persuasion, the title retains its significant hallowed space.

In contempary usage, primarily in the West, it has extended into anyone who makes religious or philosophical statements and has followers because of this. In further metaphorical extension it means simply expert.

Guru is also the Sanskrit reference to Brihaspati, a Hindu figure equivalent to the planet the Greeks named Jupiter; in Vedic astrology, Jupiter/Guru/Brihaspati is believed to exert teaching influences. Indeed, in Indian languages like Hindi, 'Thursday' is called either Brihaspativaar or Guruvaar (vaar meaning period or day).

Origin and understanding of the Guru in Hinduism

The word guru means teacher in Sanskrit and other Sanskrit-derived languages like Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati. It originated in a Hindu context and holds a special place in Hinduism, signifying the sacred place of knowledge (vidya) and the imparter of knowledge. The word comes from the root "gru" literally meaning heavy, weighty. Another etymology claimed in Hindu scriptures is that of dispeller of darkness (wherein darkness is seen as avidya, lack of knowledge both spiritual and intellectual): 'gu' meant darkness and 'ru' meant remover.

In the sense mentioned here above, guru is used more or less interchangeably with satguru (literally: true teacher) and satpurusha. Compare also Swami. Often there is a lineage of gurus. The disciple of a guru is called sishya or chela. Often a guru lives in an ashram. The lineage of a Guru, spread by worthy disciples who carry on that guru's particular message, is known as the guru parampara.

In the traditional sense, the word describes a relationship rather than an absolute and is used as a form of address only by a disciple addressing his master. Some Hindu denominations hold that a personal relationship with a living guru, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential in seeking moksha.

The origin of guru can be traced back as far as the early Upanishads, where the conception of the Divine Teacher on earth first manifested from its early Brahmin associations. Indeed, there is a Hindu understanding that if the devotee were presented with the guru and God, first he would pay respects to the Guru since the Guru had been instrumental in leading him to God. In the Svestara Upanishad it reads that "Guru is God and is greater than God". The interpretation of this is that God could do everything except reveal himself. Therefore the Aspect of God who could reveal Him to you was more powerful than He. Since all who believed this believed in a Universe comprised of God, and omni-presence being one of God's qualities. Another interpretation is that everybody has God within, and that the Aspect of God who can show you where God is within yourself, who can show you how to find God in a way that lets you merge with Him, is the most important Aspect of God for you.

The role of the guru continues in the original sense of the word in such Hindu traditions as Vedanta, Yoga, Tantra and Bhakti sects. Indeed, it is now a standard part of Hinduism (as defined by the six Vedic streams and the Tantric Agamic streams that a guru is one's spiritual guide on earth. In some more mystical Hindu circles, it is believe that the guru could awaken dormant spiritual knowledge within the pupil, known as shaktipat.

Some influential gurus in the Hindu tradition (there have been many) include Adi Shankaracharya, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Shri Ramakrishna. Other gurus whose legacy of continuing the Hindu yogic tradition grew in the 20th century were luminaries like Shri Aurobindo Ghosh, Shri Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda and Swami Chinmayananda.

Of particular note with respect to Thelema is Shri Gurudev Mahendranath, a British-born tantric guru influenced by Aleister Crowley.


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