Question of the month: April 2019

What is the difference between a real Guru and a spiritual teacher?

In ancient times a highly developed culture evolved in the East. Here the teachings of Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and many other spiritual paths started to appear. In this high culture they made a distinction between “Guru” and “Sat Guru”. These words are from the Sanskrit language; a language that is sometimes considered a dying language because it is no longer used in daily life. But it is still used in both Buddhist and Vedic traditions. Many of the ancient scriptures are written in this language and in Sanskrit we can find so many subtle spiritual terms. But here in the West we don’t have the words for Guru and Sat Guru. Why is it so? Because it is only in the last hundred years that Gurus have been appearing in the West. One of the most famous was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who started to teach here in the sixties and made meditation popular in many parts of the world. Maharishi was a disciple of Guru Dev – Swami Brahmananda Saraswati – who was a great Sat Guru of his time.

The word Guru means “teacher”. Sat Guru is something else; it is “an awakened Guru”. There are countless Gurus but very, very few are Sat Gurus. So what is the difference between the two?

A Guru is a teacher, it is someone who has a “teaching” and spiritual techniques. From a Guru you can learn a lot about being a good person and a lot about spirituality. At the feet of the Guru you become a “believer”. A Sat Guru “knows” who he is. He is one who has “awakened”; he is an enlightened being. The difference between a Guru and a Sat Guru is like knowing the word “salt” and knowing the taste of salt.

In the West the meaning of the term “Guru” has been confused with that of “Sat Guru”. This happened when the Guru business grew and became a great business; when the hippies came back from India and began to teach meditation, yoga and mantras. What they where teaching was techniques, belief systems and faith. But it was not based on “real knowing”, because truth is “non conceptual” and must be grounded in experience. Also many self-made Indian Gurus came to the West. They were speaking English with an interesting Indian accent, had an exotic appearance and knew how to say all the right words and how to use spiritual concepts. They bought a ticket to USA, called themselves a Guru and started to teach. These Gurus spoke like a Sat Guru, because they had studied and had the theoretical knowledge. Soon they were considered enlightened since nobody knew the difference between a Guru and an enlightened teacher (a Sat Guru).

Not long time ago there was a program on the Danish TV about creating a “Guru”. The film makers found a young Indian man in New Work. They dressed him in white and asked him to learn all the right words that Sat Gurus use. In a short time he had got many disciples. He used to sit on a podium with his long hair and beard, high above all his followers who had to sit on the floor. This became a great business and more people came. One day, during a teaching in California when he had gathered a crowd of people who believed that he was a true awakened Sat Guru, he confessed, that he was not an enlightened teacher and that the whole thing was an experiment by the film makers. There were many different reactions from the disciples. Some said “thank you”, because they felt that he had taught them a lesson. Others got very angry and disappointed. This is what can happen if an unrealised person pretends to teach a highly awakened understanding in a “Coca Cola culture”. In the last decades many have been on this “Guru trip” – saying the right words but not being able to transmit the truth like a Sat Guru does.

A non-enlightened Guru can speak and teach with the right words. This is called “conceptual enlightenment”. A real Guru – a Sat Guru – transmits “existential enlightenment”; the real truth. This transmission is not something a Sat Guru does! It is something that happens in a certain moment. You may have to sit for years with different Sat Gurus, until the day you suddenly understand that “what they are” is the same as “what you are”. Therefore, I call the Sat-Guru the last projection. Awakening is a resonance effect that can happen in the presence of someone who knows who he really is.

A spiritual teacher can teach you words, but the presence of a Sat Guru can transform you. When you are ready it will come into your life!