Importance of the Guru

Kabiriyat, Episode 10, (Soon to be uploaded on this website in the video section)

By Dr. Ashwini Mokashi

In our tenth episode of the Kabiriyat, we will discuss a crucial topic among the Bhakti poet-saints: the importance of the Spiritual teacher or the Guru. Saint Kabir has multiple poems crediting his Guru, Shri Ramananda Swami with various good happenings in his life and taking him closer to Moksha, or Ultimate Reality.

We have taken the following poem of Saint Kabir from the book ‘Paramartha Sopan,’ compiled by Gurudev Prof. R. D. Ranade. The original Hindi poem by Saint Kabir is as follows:

गुरु ने मोहिं दीन्हीं अजब जड़ी ॥

सोहि जड़ी मोहिं प्यारि लगतु है, अमृत रसन भरी ॥

काया नगर अजब इक बँगला, ता में गुप्त धरी ॥

पाँचों नाग पचीसों नागिन, सूँघत तुरत मरीं ॥

या कारे ने सब जग खायो, सतगुरु देख डरी ॥

कहत कबीर सुनो भइ साधो, लै परिवार तरी ॥


Guru ne mohi dinhi ajab jadi,

Sohi jadi mohi pyari lagatu hai, amrut rasan bhari,

Kaya nagar ajab ik bangala, ta me gupta dhari,

pancho naga pachiso nagin sunghat turat mari

Ya kare ne sab jab khayo, sataguru dekh dari,

Kahat Kabir, suno bhai sadho, lai pariwar tari.


The translation in Hindi by Gurudev R. D. Ranade is as follows:

गुरु ने मुझको अज़ब जड़ी दी है। यह जड़ी अमृत रस से भरी है, अतएव वह मुझे बहुत प्यारी लगती है। इस शरीर रूपी नगर में एक अजब बँगला है। (मैंने) उसमें जड़ी छिपा के रख दी है । उसको सूँघते ही पाँचों नाग और पचीसों नागिन तुरन्त मर गई । इस काले ने सब संसार को खा डाला, पर सद्गुरु को देख कर डर गया। कबीर कहते हैं कि, हे भाई सुनो! (सद्गुरु) परिवार ले कर तर जाता है।

An Attempt at an English Translation:

The Guru has given us a remarkable medicine. It has the potency of heavenly nectar and is therefore delightful. There is a bungalow in a city (this body) where this medicine is kept in secret. By just taking a whiff of it, five large and twenty-five small snakes die instantly. Time has destroyed the entire world, but it fears the Sadguru. Therefore, Kabir says, O good man, Sadguru alone can uplift your family and carry it to Ultimate Reality.

Spiritual Interpretation:

In this poem, Saint Kabir praises his Guru and talks about what a Guru can do for our spiritual growth. Saint Kabir uses the analogy of medicine, which can cure our diseases. Likewise, the mantra has a potential to lift us up to great spiritual heights. He says that his Guru has given him a remarkable medicine full of heavenly nectar. The mantra is a gift from the Guru, and it is different for each person. Sometimes, it resembles one’s ‘ishta-devata,’ but only a Guru can see which mantra is right for the disciple.

As we know, no spiritual journey can reach its destination without the blessings of the Guru. Only such an accomplished meditator like a Sadguru can see the spiritual potential of a disciple and guide them accordingly. Without that vision and guidance, it is a sine qua non for making headway along this path.

There are many remarkable analogies in this poem. The city refers to our body and the bungalow refers to our heart. The ‘medicine’ refers to the mantra taken through our breath during meditation. Five snakes (nagas) refer to the five pranas from the Samkhya Philosophy, and the twenty-five female snakes (naginis) indicate the twenty-five elements of the Samkhya Philosophy including five mahabhutas, five tanmatras, five jnanendriyas and five karmendriyas. ‘Kaal’ refers to time or death that eventually destroys all life on earth. Nevertheless, death cannot destroy a liberated soul. Therefore, Saint Kabir persuades us to seek the help of Sadguru, who can save us from the clutches of Time/Death and take us closer to ‘Moksha’ and save our families in this life and beyond. [1]

Modern Relevance:

Teachers and mentors are significant for our education and growth. Without their crucial guidance, it is not easy to do well in life. No matter what profession we are in, unless and until we have the blessings of our teachers, we cannot become good craftsmen, sound artists, plumbers, or scholars. Those in corporate jobs have mentors who can guide them to figure out a career path for themselves. From our teachers, we imbibe the know-how of a profession, and learn how to resolve various issues on the path, create space for ourselves in competitive fields, and remain good moral individuals. When our vision gets blurred, we use the vision of our mentors as a torch that can light a path for ourselves.

Spiritual life or (paramarthika) is just as important as the material life (vyavaharika). It is even more critical to have a teacher in the spiritual world, as they alone can see the path forward. We cannot. They have earned and achieved the distinction of being a ‘Guru’ by their great sadhana, through meditation, moral behavior, positive thinking, and by transcending the qualities of sattva, tamas, and rajas. One can rise beyond the tamasic and rajasic qualities by surrendering evil or mixed motives in life. However, it takes much strength of character and Bhakti, total surrender and devotion to God and the Guru, to rise beyond the sattva or good qualities and see ourselves as one with the Brahman. A Guru can help us in the process of rising beyond sheer goodness, to become selfless meditators fully engaged with the world. They themselves are selfless guides to their disciples leading them to the experience of sat-chit-ananda, or realization of the Truth, Consciousness and Bliss. A Guru prepares his disciples to achieve Moksha and be one with the Ultimate Reality.

In short, the teachers, mentors and Sadgurus play a very crucial role in our lives, uplifting us into a realm beyond the ordinary and every day.[2]

[1] For more discussion on this topic, please see ‘Pathway to God in Hindi Literature’ by Prof. R.D. Ranade, 2013, Shri Gurudev Ranade Samadhi Trust Nimbal R.S., pages 300-303.

[2] I am grateful to Mrs. Madhuri Sondhi, Mr. Amol Ghatpande and Dr. Kiran Dabhade for their inputs.

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