By Dr Henry Shepherd
A guru is a person who is an expert on a particular subject. Since times, immemorial an age-old practice all over the world has been for people to go to learn skills, art & craft, philosophy, religion from a guru or expert in the chosen field. Proteges offered the highest esteem to their gurus and expected them to guide them.
The disciples would take the guru’s words as ultimate and follow them blindly to prove themselves as worthy and passionate disciples. Disciples would invariably live with the Guru and serve them wholeheartedly.
An error in choosing the right guru causes a unretrievable loss in terms of time and energy, leading to frustration and bitterness.
In India ‘guru- shishya’ relationship has been distinctly special and personal.
The exclusive status of genuine religious gurus, having a name, fame and power has tempted some impostors to deceive unsuspecting people by pretending to be a super guru. Though they have no spiritual wisdom to offer, yet by adopting business skills, they manage to dupe some elite people in the society. These swindlers have access to the corridors, of power therefore they dare to operate fearlessly.
Jesus warned his disciples that false prophets and false Christs would appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive. According to Paul, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. Seekers are advised to choose teachers free from these traits. False gurus coming from the above category do not believe in sacrificial life, and their disciples are also worldly people searching exaltation in the society.
Jesus was a popular guru (Rabbi), and he accepted this title willingly. He lived an exemplary sacrificial life, had no ashram, and walked daily long distances on foot in hail, rain or storm. Initially, seventy-two disciples joined him but all could not manage to follow him. After some time, a big crowd used to follow him, but he did not offer to every enthusiastic person discipleship.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brother and sister – yes even his life – he cannot be my disciple,” he said.
“And if anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose or forfeit his self.
Finally, he was left with twelve disciples (apostles). He taught people without a day break for three and a half years, and also trained apostles to propagate his teachings after his death. His teachings were simple and based on love, obedience, humility, and forgiveness, but he did not establish a religion. He never carried money, food and water for the journey. Out of chosen twelve one of his disciples betrayed him for forty silver coins. As a guru, he did not allow his disciple to serve him physically. He rather told them – “I have come to serve and not to be served”.
He called twelve disciples – his friends and did not hide any heavenly secrets from them. Jesus honored and obeyed God, led a blameless life and taught the world how to live a godly life as a common man in the sinful world. He practiced all that he preached. He washed his disciples’ feet to teach them humility. He forgave his enemies from the cross pleading to God. ‘Father forgives them as they do not know what are they doing’. He loved the world and gave his life to save humankind from damnation. He remained obedient to God and accepted his death on the Cross, for it was the will of God.
Once a rich man who sought for eternal life came to Jesus. He suggested him to give away his wealth to the poor and then follow him. The rich man became very sad hearing this condition because he loved riches more than eternal life. Jesus said, “where is your money there is your heart”.
On three occasions, he fed big crowds miraculously, using a few available loaves of bread. It prompted many to follow him for free food, but he did not accept them for his mission was to feed them the Bread of Life.
Some Greeks, who are always hungry for new knowledge, wanted to follow him but he discouraged them for their aim was not matching his mission: Show the way, teach the truth and give life. Knowledge puffs, but he offered wisdom, i.e., a divine gift that leads to redemptive obedience, holiness, and humility.
On the other hand, he called a despised tax collector to follow him who left all and joined him as one of his disciples. If a person comes to the guru with a selfish motive, he cannot serve God. A prophet told his two disciples that Jesus is the one they should follow to attain their spiritual aspirations, they heeded his advice and came to Jesus. So he asked them, “What seek ye?” A fundamental question that a true guru would ask the aspirant before he joins him. Unless the aim of a disciple and the mission of Guru are same, it is like a marriage of convenience.
Some of the aims of seekers are an emotional outburst, political, curiosity, seeking truth and peace including health problems, to attain divine power, unrest, and social status. A few go to study theology only because of their mediocrity. They later use scriptural knowledge to support their theology and mind, rather than knowing God personally.
A true disciple is unconditional but not directionless, and true guru has no love for worldly ambitions and has a transparent life. To buy jewels, one should go to jewelers rather than to a wine shop. Also, a teacher of social sciences should not enroll students who want to learn physics or mathematics. He who has been sent by God will teach the word of God. A teacher, having only scriptural knowledge, but no scriptural experience is like a musical instrument that can produce pleasing sound but has no life.
Gehazi was a protege of the prophet- Elisha. One day a mighty captain of Syrian army Naaman came to Elisha for a favour. He was a great man but had leprosy, so he had come to the prophet to get healed. The God’s man healed him but refused to accept from him the precious gifts offered to him. He did this to make Naaman realise that the mercy and forgiveness of God are not on sale and sent him back with blessings, but Gehazi could not digest this and slyly followed Naaman. He asked him for a few items from gifts they were taking back. The greediness of his protege vexed the prophet, and he cursed him. Immediately the leprosy of Naaman clung to Gehazi, and he had to leave the school of prophet forever. In an ideal guru – shishya relationship, spiritual gurus have a mind of God, and disciples – the mind of the guru. The true relationship is rooted in love and truth.
One day Jesus Christ called St. Paul to follow him. Paul asked Jesus “Lord! What do you want me to do?” The follower must enquire from the guru this the basic question right in the beginning. Also, he must ensure that tall claims of his would-be guru are not farcical. A worldly person is totally unfit to pursue spiritual explorations, and its visa Versa is also true. Therefore, Jesus ensured asking his followers: “What seek ye?” And what is expected of them as protege?
The guru – shishya relationship is likely to cause a chemical reaction in which both may transform each other, provided they are in one accord. So broadly, there are at least three kinds of teachers in the order of merit: false teacher, a good teacher and a great teacher, however, the greatest teacher is God himself. It is imperative that one should choose the best teacher wisely. A guru should be honest, truthful, godly, humble and capable of foreseeing his pupils’ growth. Whereas a good teacher can only explore the inbuilt abilities of his pupils. However to the false teachers Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the times, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.
Dr Henry Shepherd is former Pro Vice Chancellor Sam Higginbottom Institute of Ag Engg & Tech