I was warned that any discussion on Gurus tends to become acrimonious. I do not understand why any message on Gurus should be taken by some people, as an attack on Gurus in general and their Gurus in particular. I know that because of this, no one wants to discuss the institution of Gurus. Though quite a few books have been written on Gurus it is more from the point of view of the West. They invariably fall back upon the definition and writing in our old texts and very rarely reflect the realities of the present times.
A friend had posed a question
"What then happens to the hungry, traveler, saddened by life's trials, desperately seeking for guidance; a guide, a father, a mother, a manifestation, a personalization of the ultimate "God"? . "
This is the crux of the problem. Whenever we talk about Gurus invariably it is about Gurus who lead the disciple to Self- Realisation.There are Pravritti and Nivritti margas. There are Mumukshas as a class of society. Even in spirituality the goal could be Prathiba, Sahaja and Samarasa. Why talk only about self- realisation as if it is the only goal for which a Guru is required. Why dismiss all other Gurus as non- Gurus?
There are other gurus who deal also with the type of people enumerated above.
The concept of Gurus is emphasised in all Tantric texts. By its very nature Tantric practices need a guru to initiate a person the Mantra, and also teach the various and elaborate rituals prescribed for attaining the Siddhi of the Mantra. These Gurus have a long lineage running to generations. Many of the Sampradhayas also believe that the Guru should be a Grahastha (householder) and not a Sannyasin.
There are hundreds of Sampradhayas and most of these Gurus are householders leading the life of a householder. There are thousands of disciples who have been initiated into these Mantras. Most of them are householders. It is again generally an accepted principle of these Sampradhayas that the initiate does not take any other Guru. Those who belong to the Great SriVidya Sampradhaya have Diksha names.
When we were discussing mantras and Siddhis earlier there was an attempt to dismiss all Mantras other than those, which lead to Moksha. Unfortunately most of the mantras in Mantra Mahodhathi and Mantra Maharnava are for attaining certain powers or Siddhis. A Tantric who attains a Siddhi of any mantra will get power. How he uses this power depends on him. Misuse of the Powers will result in losing the power gradually and also prevent him from attaining higher powers.
We find a number of these Tantrics making money out of these powers. They help the common man in overcoming obstacles, winning court cases etc. You may say that this is Black magic or dhurmantra. The Tantric scriptures do not make any such distinction and Tantrics have always for thousands of years used their powers for material benefits.
There are many families in India (especially among the Vaishnavites) where your family has accepted an individual or the head of a particular Math as your Guru. These Gurus could be either householders or Sannyasins depending upon the tradition. There are hundreds of gurus of this kind in India. The families consult the Guru on a regular basis regarding their problems.
We have all heard of the wandering monks, mad monks, and naked Sadhus of India. Most of these people belong to the Nath/Siddha tradition. These kinds of Sadhus do not follow the norms of the society. They are called mad because they do not conform to the norms of the society. But many of them had achieved the ultimate Siddhi. By mere look they could elevate the disciple to a higher level. Many Siddhas also were masters of indigenous medicine and alchemy. There is a system of medicine called the Siddha Vaidhya. They went around healing people. I can write & write about the greatness of these Siddhas without end. We talk about Prathiba, Sahaja, Samarasa, and not self- realisation here. These Gurus attained Sahaja and Samarasa.
It is in the Nath/Siddha/Avadhootha/Tantric tradition that the Guru is held in absolute reverence. In aishnavism also the Guru is venerated. The Guru does not hold this exalted position in the Advaita marga.
If we look at our history you will find that our great Gurus came from all traditions.
If you prepare a list of Gurus like
Bagavan Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Disciples of Ramakrishna
Bagavan Ramana Maharshi
Bagavan Shirdi Sai Baba
Bagavan Sathya Saibaba
Shree MAA of Kamakya
Swami Sathyananda Saraswathi
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Maa Rama Devi
Maharshi Mahesh Yogi
You will find that everyone had his/her own path. As Bagavan Ramakrishna said there are as many paths as there are men. I had prepared the list of only those Gurus whose teachings and path I know something about. There are hundreds whom I am not fortunate enough to know.
I am sure some of you would have seen the web site referred by one of my friends here. (Let Us Reason ). I am giving below a paragraph from one of their pages.
" They learn spirituality by experience. Marilyn Ferguson states it this way,"The radical Center of spiritual experience seems to be knowing without doctrine ... the teacher does not impart knowledge but technique. This is the 'transmission of knowledge by direct experience.' Doctrine on the other hand, is second-hand knowledge, a danger .... 'Do not get entangled in any teaching." (The Aquarian Conspiracy, Marilyn Ferguson, Pages 371, 377.)"
They are right. The Guru teaches from his personal knowledge. So most of them taught the path they had experienced.
One of my friends had asked about the general qualifications of a guru. I do not think you can have one. There is an ocean of difference between a Vedantic guru and an Agora guru. Between a Spiritual guru of the Advaita marga and a Vama marga Tantric Guru. Instead of spending time in finding out about Conmen (calling them fake Gurus is an insult to Gurus) we can learn about all these gurus and their teachings. Most of the information is available on the net. Many of them also have ashrams all over the world. If you like the teachings of a Guru and would like to join their community you can visit their ashrams. If you want a Tantric or Nath/Siddha guru you have to really search hard as these kind of Gurus are not easy to find. You hear more about Con men masquerading as Gurus because Con men make better copy for newspapers and magazines than real Gurus.
If you are a spiritual or religious explorer/adventurer you can explore different margas, exoteric and non exoteric. All explorers do not discover the source of the Nile. Similarly spiritual explorers may never find the ultimate. Like in exploration the path can be dangerous also. But there is always a thrill in exploration.
We are blessed that Hinduism has produced so many great gurus. One of our friends had written that tolerance is the basis of Hinduism. It is not tolerance. It is acceptance of all paths. Most of us are yet to accept this concept of acceptance. Some of you may not consider some of the people on my list as Gurus. The principle is to be inclusive and not exclusive. Find out what is good in all men and if you find some good teachings try to absorb them. Lookout for Con-men and you will find one in every corner. It is a question of attitude and conditioning.
By then are we qualified to judge these great men? It is like a toddler in the Nursery class passing judgment on the Head teacher of the school. I would say it is worse. The difference in level is so high like a deep hole in the ground and the peak of the mountain. As I said earlier the only people who can give you an opinion are the disciples. Ask different disciples (beginners and advanced) and the dissenters (there are always some) and then may be you can decide. Even this I am not so sure. But do not put yourself in a straight jacket by going by any definition.