A Guru of the 21st Century

Many of us might have heard the word “guru” in relation to someone who is an expert in a particular field. Some others will immediately relate it to India, and to some sort of wise person devoted to a spiritual life. For those more acquainted with the subject, popular names may pop into their minds, like Osho or Sai Baba. Coming closer to the actual definition, some will relate it to something Divine. But what does this timeless concept of a guru really mean? And is the bond between one and his disciples nowadays the same as it used to be traditionally?

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In yoga, a guru is a master of the spiritual path, with experience both in the process and in the realizations it brings. Ideally, he has attained the final goal in Yoga, which is spiritual Enlightenment. It is said that when one has reached this state, the apparent separation between one self and the world disappears, and instead a feeling of complete Unity remains. Enlightenment is therefore realizing not only the Divine out there, but also the Divine within, consciously incarnating it.

Living and guarding the truths within him, he seeks to transmit these and thus create more consciousness in the world. At the same time, there are people out there seeking for those truths. This sets the basis for the guru-disciple relationship, the way in which the bulk of the yoga tradition has survived time. Though there are old scriptures and manuals concerning various types of yoga, it is by word of mouth, from master to disciple, that the knowledge has always been transmitted.

For the relationship to be established the guru will have to see in his potential disciple a real longing for Truth and the right attitude. If he considers it appropriate, initiation will take place, in which a means for the attainment of realization will be granted, like a special mantra or meditation.
Complete obedience of his words and services are expected from the disciple. Going far beyond being a mere exchange for teachings, this attitude will remove all obstacles from the relationship. A true hearted service will remove the ego barrier, that which tells the disciple that he is an individual, someone different from his guru. In the end, he has to realize that they are one and the same. Service means shaping his life according to the teachings of his master.

A Modern’s Man Challenges on Taking a Guru
The Ego Barrier
If you travel in India and are not very familiar with its traditions and cultural inheritance, you will probably be astonished if you happen to come across a disciple meeting his guru on the street bowing and kissing his feet as a sign of respect.

A Western shaped culture tends more and more to empower an individual not by the bonds and co-operation he creates with the community but in relation to the strength he exerts over others and by the imposition of his will over theirs. The concept of a guru and the obedience, service and surrendering it implies are not embraced as easily as the physical yoga, ideal for relaxation in these stressful times.

A person with such a view of life will find his ego to be the greatest barrier, impeding him either to decide to follow a guru, or if he does, to fully give himself. Surrendering is a key element in many spiritual traditions. It implies letting go of whatever the mind or ego has pictured and clung to as something that should or shouldn’t be. Surrendering to a guru is giving in one´s own ego.

The Controversial Guru
On the other side of the coin, we encounter the challenges or controversies that certain gurus can give rise to. History has largely shown how blind idealization of a leader has often led to a negative outcome, such as deception, enmity or unconscious behavior. Discrimination is therefore a must if one desires to be under a guru’s guidance.

Even a person spirituality advanced can show flaws if his consciousness was to decrease in a given moment, becoming entangled in the ego world. Or one that appears to be a great master could be a fake. But at the same time we should not be prone to judge so easily. Out there, there exist several traditions that people foreign to yoga know very little of, and this along with the possibility of a dubious guru are facts that should be carefully considered.

This can give rise to strong polemics. Let’s take for instance the example of the spiritual empowerment a guru is supposed to transmit to his disciples, aside to the teachings themselves. In the Tantric path, a yogic tradition that sees the Divine not only in Spirit but also in Nature, some important and strong energetic transmittions could take place sexually. But when we consider the possibility of the dubious guru, it is crucial that discrimination should impose itself over blind faith.

Controversies can arise even around real great gurus. Being in a state of consciousness that is beyond good and evil, their lives could be led in ways that would be very difficult to understand. The example of Osho Rajneesh is one of which you might have heard, his life being surrounded by his polemic acts and declarations and attracting attention for his large collection of Rolls Royces and his open attitude towards sex. A beginner in yoga could get lost easily following his lifestyle.

But as the present time presents its own challenges, it’s not unlikely that throughout the guru tradition, many centuries old, obstacles have risen and have been likewise overcome.

If you are a beginner in yoga and wish to deepen in the teachings, consider every fact before following a guru blindly and bowing to principles that you don´t fully understand.

Nevertheless, the option of a guru is not one that you should dismiss. In the right time a guru´s guidance could be of great importance to you, the key to the path that will lead you to a deeper understanding of the real meaning of yoga.

Author: Sharon Liao

Sharon was born in Lima, Peru. She studied Clinical Psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú -PUCP- (2009). Her traveler spirit took her to discover different cultures around the world, and it was in India were she was introduced to the world of yoga in Hari Hari Peeth ashram in Rishikesh (2010). In 2011 she co-founded Psicomunitaria, a Psychology center in Lima, and taught at PUCP. In the meanwhile, she has continued to deepen her yoga practice, and has learned from teachers in Peru and in Agama Yoga school in Thailand. Also in Thailand, she completed a certification at ITM in traditional Thai massage (2012), a healing art which shares the same roots of yoga, providing her a more profound understanding of energy work.


  1. Hi Sharon,
    Interesting and thoughtful article about “Guru”, I know this word and a loose meaning of it. Your article explained its real meaning in the context of Yoga. Thanks for the nice article.

    Do you also teach Yoga?

    • Hi Gal,
      Thank you very much for leaving a reply. I’m very happy to hear that you like the article.
      I’m currently traveling and not teaching Yoga. As a reader, what topic would you like to know more about?


  2. Pam Brown says:

    Sharon, nice article, I definitevely agree with your following statement

    “If you are a beginner in yoga and wish to deepen in the teachings, consider every fact before following a guru blindly and bowing to principles that you don´t fully understand”

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