What is the Guru Principle?

A change of perspective...


When I was a child, I lived in the ashram of Swami Muktananda in Ganeshpuri (India), in South Fallsburg (upstate New York) and Evry (France), until I turned twelve — at which point started the phase of my life in which I would learn to apply the teachings I had received, in the context of the often-confusing mundane world that most people call “normal life”.

An essential part of the ashram’s daily routine was gathering in the main hall at five-thirty every morning to greet the new day by chanting the Guru Gita (Song of the Guru), an ancient Sanskrit hymn from the latter portion of the Skanda Purana.

Considered as the fifth Veda, the Puranas are scriptures known for their intricate layers of symbolism. Because they existed in oral form long before being written down, it is difficult to estimate their date of origin — the oldest available version of the Skanda, largest of the eighteen Puranas, is an incomplete palm-leaf manuscript written in the 7th century CE that was found in Kathmandu (Nepal).


The beginning of the Guru Gita describes Lord Shiva and his wife, goddess Parvati, resting on the summit of snowy Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Parvati asks Shiva to teach her about the Guru principle, guru-tattva, and the path by which an embodied soul can become one with the Absolute.


Shiva & Parvati

In response to this request a dialogue arises between the two, during which the god instructs her in the knowledge of this essential catalyst in the process of awakening. The hymn also gives the etymology of the word Guru, which indicates one who dispels the darkness of ignorance by kindling the light of knowledge within us.


– Guru Gita, Shloka 23 –

The syllable gu is darkness, and the syllable ru is said to be light.

There is no doubt that the Guru is indeed the supreme knowledge that swallows (the darkness of) ignorance.



– Guru Gita, Shloka 24 –

The first letter or syllable gu represents principles such as Maya and others, and the second syllable ru, the supreme knowledge that destroys the illusion of Maya.



Maya, the Great Illusion, gives everything a unique form and name, hiding the underlying Oneness. It makes us forget our true nature and instead focus outwards, identifying with our physical boundaries.

The belief that we are our body, mind and emotions is a deception which brings us suffering — no matter what personal goals we may succeed in, there still remains a feeling of separation that never leaves us.

A Guru is one who experiences the underlying Oneness.


– Guru Gita, Shloka 9 –

The Guru is no different from the knowing Self. Without doubt, this is the truth, this is the truth. Therefore, wise men, indeed, should make an effort to attain him.



– Guru Gita, Shloka 10 –

The illusion of the world, the veiled knowledge born of ignorance, resides in the body. He by whose light (true knowledge) arises is referred to by the word Guru.



The identification to the body, mind and emotions is what we call ego: the sense of individual self. It is this ego which lives in fear and separation, for it comes attached to the body and with it will die.

The underlying Self is aware that all is One, that separation is but an illusion of Maya. It is free from the ups and downs of life, experiencing while being untouched by the experience.

The Sama Veda (1,200 BCE) affirms:


Tat Tvam Asi : Thou art That

This is one of the Mahavakyas, the four Great Sayings of Advaita, the non-dualistic school of Vedanta. It expresses the relationship between the individual and the Absolute, stating that the Self is identical with Ultimate Reality — the knowledge that this is so, characterises the experience of liberation. It is this very Self which manifests as the Guru.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, a great Indian sage and jivanmukta (liberated being) explained the importance of the guru-tattva:


Sri Ramana Maharshi, 1879-1950

“What is this talk of Guru, Grace, God, etc.? Does the Guru hold you by the hand and whisper something in your ear?


You imagine him to be like yourself. Because you are with a body you think that he is also a body in order to do something tangible to you. His work lies within. How is Guru gained?


God, who is immanent, in his Grace takes pity on the loving devotee and manifests Himself as a being according to the devotee’s standard.


The devotee thinks that he is a man and expects relationship as between bodies. But the Guru, who is God or Self incarnate, works from within, helps the man to see the error of his ways, guides him in the right path until he realises the Self within.


After such realisation the disciple feels, “I was so worried before. I am after all the Self, the same as before but not affected by anything; where is he who was miserable? He is nowhere to be seen.”


What should we do now? Only act up to the words of the master, work within. The Guru is both within and without.


So he creates conditions to drive you inward and prepares the interior to drag you to the centre. Thus he gives a push from without and exerts a pull from within so that you may be fixed at the centre.”


— Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi



The Guru can indeed appear in the guise of an awakened guide, one who no longer identifies to his body, emotions and mind but to the Oneness that lies beyond form.


He is the catalyst that helps us access the Self within ourselves, being both a person and an embodiment of the teachings, the path, the wisdom of the awakened mind. Such were Muktananda and his own Guru, Bhagawan Nityananda.


Swami Muktananda & Bhagawan Nityananda

The Guru also manifests as spontaneous insight: this is the Inner Master instructing you, the Inner Voice that arises deep within.


It can come at any moment, prompted by a sparkling drop of water, a snippet of words overheard on the busy street, a dog twitching in his sleep, the gentle hum of a bee flying over sweet-scented flowers...


One cannot mistake the Inner Voice with the voices of the mind. This Voice is calm and prompts you to go where you never thought to go, whereas the worried voices of the mind hold you back.


The Role of Yoga

Yogic tradition, based on the awareness that we live in a universe that is alive, conscious and reachable, has been teaching us for over 5,000 years how to connect with our innermost Self.

How reductive is today’s understanding of Yoga as being an aerobic practice of physical postures (asana), when the original and traditional systems — that led countless individuals to liberation from the pain of separation in which the ego is trapped (moksha) — focused on meditation (dhyana), knowledge (jñana) and devotion (bhakti).

“Through intense deep meditation you reach a state that is beyond thought, beyond change, beyond imagination, beyond differences and duality.  Once you can stay in that state for a while and come out of it without losing any of it, then the inner divine love will begin to pour through you.  You will not see people as different, separate individuals. You will see your own Self in everyone around you. Then the flow of love from within you will be constant and unbroken.”

— Swami Muktananda Paramahamsa


When practicing Yoga, ask yourself and your teacher if what you are being taught will lead you to awakening and moksha. If you do not find the answer satisfactory, it would be sensible to seek guidance elsewhere.

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