Is a Guru Absolutely Necessary?
In spite of much prevalence of the concept of a spiritual Guru, there is still a good deal of confusion, misunderstanding, and skepticism in the public mind on this vital matter.
Is a Guru absolutely necessary? Who is a Satguru? How far can he help his Chela (disciple)? What are the duties of a disciple? What is the meaning of Initiation (diksha)? Want of clear-cut and definite answers to these and related questions often impedes the spiritual progress of earnest aspirants.
We explore the answers to some of these questions here.
THE NEED FOR A GURU
For a beginner in the spiritual path, a Guru is necessary. To light a candle, you need a burning candle. Even so, an illumined soul alone can enlighten another soul. Some do meditation for some years independently. Later on, they actually feel the necessity for a Guru. They come across some obstacles in the way. They do not know how to obviate these impediments or stumbling blocks. Then they begin to search for a Master.
Only the man who has already been to Badrinath will be able to tell you the road leading to it. In the case of the spiritual path, it is still more difficult to find your way. The mind will mislead you very often. The Guru will be able to remove pitfalls and obstacles, and lead you along the right path. He will tell you: “This road leads you to Moksha; this one leads to bondage.” Without this guidance, you might want to go to Badrinath, but find yourself in Delhi!
Is there anyone greater than Lord Rama & Krishna?
Even they took refuge in the Guru.
The Lord of the three worlds,
Admits subjugation to the Guru.
The Lord in his incarnations as Sri Rama & Sri Krishna took refuge in the holy feet of Self Realized Saints like Guru Vishwamitra, Sage Vasishtha & Sage Sandipani, thus exemplifying the divine message of the Supreme Glory of the Guru, to whole of humanity.
Sant Kabirji has nicely explained the need for a Guru in his own words:
सहजो कारज संसार के, गुरु बिन होत नाहि |
हरि तो गुरु बिन क्या मिले, समझ ले मन माहि ||
Translation: Even if you need to perform the ordinary chores of the world, you need someone to guide you in the form of a Guru. O Mind! Then ponder, how can one attain the Supreme Almighty Lord without a Guru?
Guru Nanak Dev ji says:
संत शरणि जो जनु पड़े, सो जनु उद्धरणहार |
संत की निंदा नानका, बहिर बहिर अवतार ||
Translation: The one who seeks shelter under a saint crosses over the ocean of samsara. One who slanders the Saints, O Nanak, shall be reincarnated over and over again.
Swami Vivekananda used to say:
"I have darshan of the Lord in my Gurudev, Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa."
The aspirant who is under the guidance of a Master or Guru is safe from being led astray. Satsanga or association with the Guru is an armour and fortress to guard you against all temptations and unfavourable forces of the material world.
Cases of those who had attained perfection without study under any Guru should not be cited as authoritative against the necessity for a Guru; for, such great men are the anomalies of spiritual life, and not the common normality. They come into existence as spiritual masters as a result of the intense service, study and meditation practised in previous births. They had already studied under the Guru. The present birth is only its continuative spiritual effect. Hence, the importance of the Guru is not lessened thereby.
To summarize, quoting the famous Adi Shankaracharyaji:
शरीरं सुरूपं तथा वा कलत्रं
यशश्चारु चित्रं धनं मेरुतुल्यं |
मनश्चेन्न लग्नं गुरोरंघ्रिपद्मे
ततः किं, ततः किं, ततः किं, ततः किं ||
"If a person possesses a handsome, disease-free body, beautiful wife, obedient son, & fame spread all over the world, but has not surrendered himself at the holy feet of a Guru, then he has achieved nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing."