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Guru Movements

  The guru (Sanskrit, ‘teacher’) is both the supreme teacher and also a spiritual master. Particularly in Shaivism, one requires a guru to lead one to enlightenment. The disciple may search for years before he finds his guru through a sudden insight and submits to him in total obedience, performing the most menial tasks for him. In return he is initiated into the guru\'s spiritual discipline, and year by year is brought to enlightenment. He is given his own special secret mantra to recite. Later, partly because of the Vedanta identification of God and the soul, the guru came to be imbued with divine attributes as well as human holiness. Even today in rural areas, families under the guidance of a particular guru will wash his feet when he visits them and drink the dirty water afterwards as a holy drink. The guru is supported by the offerings of such families.

In the so-called guru movements, a personality cult has sprung up and the guru is seen as divine, or as a reincarnation of a saint or deity. Gurus are generally sannyasi, that is they have renounced the world, and they wear the ochre robes of the ascetic. But a guru may have his own residence, or ashram. They are deemed to have no personal history before they took their vows and no caste, but in practice they are usually Brahmans.

Among ordinary Hindus, gurus are often held to be figures of fun, like Anglican vicars in English comedy. One of the most popular Tamil classics is the Strange Surprising Adventures of the Venerable Guru Simple, and his Five Disciples, Noodle, Doodle, Wiseacre, Zany and Foozle. (This was actually written by a Jesuit, C.J. Beschi.) EMJ

Further reading Khushwant Singh, Gurus, Godmen and Good People.



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