In Hindu religion and culture, every science or art or craft has to be learnt directly from a competent teacher in that field. Anyone who dispenses the need for a teacher is simply acting without proper understanding.
Guru means ‘one who is praised [due to his great qualities]’. The guru imparts spiritual knowledge by initiating a disciple into the spiritual life and takes the responsibilities of the disciple.
Since learning is considered as a tapas (austerity, discipline), the teacher has to be looked upon with great respect and reverence. However, the Hindu scriptures also warn the people against false gurus.
Qualifications of a Guru
To know whether a guru is competent and genuine, some basic guidelines are given. A guru must possess the following qualifications:
A guru must know the spirit of the scriptures
The teacher who deals too much in words and allows the mind to be carried away by the force of words loses the spirit. It is the knowledge of the spirit of the scriptures alone that constitutes the true religious teacher
“The various methods of joining words, the various methods of speaking in beautiful language, the various methods of explaining the diction of the scriptures are only for the disputations and enjoyment of the learned, they do not conduce to the development of spiritual perception.”
Those who employ such methods to impart religion to others are only desirous to show off their learning, so that the world may praise them as great scholars.
The sine qua non of acquiring spiritual truth for one’s self or for imparting it to others is the purity of heart and soul. A vision of God or a glimpse of the beyond never comes until the soul is pure. Hence with the teacher of religion we must see first what he is, and then what he says. He must be perfectly pure, and then alone comes the value of his words, because he is only then the true “transmitter”.
What can he transmit if he has not spiritual power in himself? There must be the worthy vibration of spirituality in the mind of the teacher, so that it may be sympathetically conveyed to the mind of the taught. The function of the teacher is indeed an affair of the transference of something, and not one of mere stimulation of the existing intellectual or other faculties in the taught. Something real and appreciable as an influence comes from the teacher and goes to the taught. Therefore the teacher must be pure.
Without any motive
The teacher must not teach with any ulterior selfish motive — for money, name, or fame; his work must be simply out of love, out of pure love for mankind at large. The only medium through which spiritual force can be transmitted is love. Any selfish motive, such as the desire for gain or for name, will immediately destroy this conveying median. God is love, and only he who has known God as love can be a teacher of godliness and God to man.
For more reading: The Need of Guru
- Acharya Sankara was born at a critical period of the Vedic religion. Before his advent, the Sanatana Dharma was facing stiff opposition from several quarters. Several anti-Vedic systems like Buddhism, Jainism, and Carvaka, the Kapalika and the Vamacara cults which propagated unethical and abominable practices in the name of religion- were all trying to shake the foundation of Hinduism.
- At such juncture, Sankara was born. He re-established the Vedic religion by his written works, vigorous propaganda of its principles and leaving behind him a band of disciples and monasteries.
- Though he only lived for 32 years, his life and works are still remembered. According to tradition, such feats accomplished by Sankara can only be done by an Avatara, or Incarnation of God. Therefore, he is revered as an Avatara of Lord Siva
- When Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta Darsana was being misinterpreted and misused, there was a great need to restore the balance between true Jnana (spiritual wisdom) and genuine Bhakti (devotion to God). It was during this critical period that Ramanuja’s advent took place.
- He is considered by his followers as an incarnation of Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama. He is also known as Udayavar, Ethirajar (Yatiraja), Emberumannar and Lakshmana Muni.
- At the command of Lord Ranganatha, Ramanuja took over the management of the temple of Sri Rangam. He reorganized the mode of worship in the temple according to the Pancaratra Agamas. The same tradition has been kept up even now.
- During his long life, Ramanuja also reorganized many Vaishnava temples throughout the Indian sub-continent. Again it was Ramanuja who helped to resolve the dispute among the Vaishnavas and Shaivas about the image of the deity at the Tirupati temple. Following Ramanuja instruction, the deity was identified as that of Vishnu.
- His greatest contribution was to preach and establish a religio-philosophical system that gave equal important to Jnana and Bhakti. He wrote (in Sanskrit) eight works in all, of which the Sri Bhasya was the magnum opus. He also wrote commentaries on Tiruvaymoli of Nammalvar.
- He brought together the Vedic ideology and methodology rooted in the Sanskrit scriptural texts and the purely devotional heritage of the Alvars, thus creating what is now called as the ‘Ubhaya-Vedanta’. Ramanuja’s Vedanta system is known as the Visistadvaita Darsana.
MADHVACHARYA (A.D. 1238-1317)
- According to the Dwaita tradition, Madhvacharya was an incarnation of Mukhyaprana, who had incarnated earlier as Hanuman and Bhima (one of the Pandava brothers).
- He was born at the village of Pajakakshetra, in Karnataka. He is reputed for discovering the image of Sri Krishna and installing it in the temple at Udupi. During the installation ceremony, he composed the famous Dvadasa Stotra (twelve stanzas on Lord Sri Krishna). Later, he established eight mathas (monasteries) to manage the Udupi temple.
- His contribution to Hindu philosophy and to the cult of Bhakti is remarkable. He is an advocate of the Dwaita Vedanta Darsana. His famous compositions are the commentaries on Brahmasutras, Bhagavadgita, Rigveda and others.
- Madhva’s sharp logic cuts to pieces the snobbish attitude of some thinkers who consider devotion as secondary to knowledge, and restores it to its rightful place. For him to love is to know and to know is to love.
- Madhva has also successfully established the harmony of the Upanishadic thoughts with those of the Itihasas (epics) and the Puranas (mythology).
- Madhva accepts God, called Narayana or Vishnu or Sri Hari, as the Supreme Reality and the others as dependent realities.
- An earnest study of his Dwaita system can certainly enrich our knowledge and increase our devotion to God thus making our spiritual evolution much easier.
- Read the complete life Madhva: Sriman Madhvacharya
SRI KRISHNA CHAITANYA (A.D.1486-1533)
- Chaitanya who hailed from Navadvip, Bengal, is another bright jewel shining brilliantly among the leaders of Vaishnavism.
- Group singing of Kirtans (devotional songs) on Sri Krishna and dancing in His name are his special contribution.
- He propagated a philosophy known as Acintya bhedabheda and tried to wipe off caste distinctions in the name of Sri Krishna.
- Chaitanya is considered as a combined incarnation of Srimati Radha and Sri Krishna. Though he exhibited in his life the intense love and passion of Radha for Krishna, he led a very strict life as an ordained monk. There was absolutely no trace of lust in his philosophy of devotion to Krishna.
- Though a great scholar, Chaitanya never left any writings of his own, except two exquisitely beautiful hymns- the Chaitanya and the Jagannatha Stotra.
The 2nd stanza from Sikshashtaka says:
namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-shaktis tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah etadrishi tava kripa bhagavan mamapi durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragah
O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names. In these names You have invested Your full powers. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names.O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.
For more reading:Sri Siksastakam by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
- Tirunavukkarasar was called as Appar (father) byTirujnana Sambandhar. Appar lived probably during the period of A.D. 600-655. After the passing away of his parents, he was brought up by his elder sister, Tilakavatiyar. Early in life, he became a Jain. However, after a serious crisis of health which was dispelled by the grace of Lord Siva, the family deity, he returned to the Hindu faith.
- A simple man of ardent faith and intense love of God, he is said to have composed in Tamil many hymns, of which only 311 are available. These hymns give the essence of the ancient scriptures in a simple but poetic language.
- He is the author of Tiruppugal, Tamil hymns on Lord Muruga. He lived in the 15th century in Tamil Nadu.
- It is said that he had an infamous birth and led an undisciplined life in his youth. A simple remark from his sister caused such an intense remorse that he tried to commit suicide by jumping from the high tower of the temple. However, God saved him in a miraculous way. This became a turning point in his life. He dedicated the rest of his life for God. Sublime poetry welled forth from his heart as a result of divine grace.
- Nayanmars are the great Saiva saints of Tamil Nadu who revived Saivism when Jainism was having its heydays. Perhaps, the most well known among the Nayanmars was Thirujnanasambandhar or Sambandhar.
- It is said that when he was a mere baby, the Divine Mother Parvati herself breast-fed him. Since then, he developed the power of composing devotional poems of exquisite literary grace on Lord Siva.
- Sambandhar travelled extensively all over the land of Tamil Nadu, often with other saints like Nilakanthayal Panar and Appar.
- He his credited to converting the king of Madurai to Saivism by exhibiting divine miracles and also curing the king of a fell disease. He also converted many Jains and Buddhists back to Saivism.
- He has composed 4168 songs, all set to various tunes of music.
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA (1863- 1902)
‘Swami Vivekananda saved Hinduism and saved India. But for him, we would have lost our religion and would not have gained our freedom. We therefore owe everything to Swami Vivekananda,’ said C.Rajagopalachari.
Born on 12 January 1863 in Kolkata, India, Swami Vivekananda was educated in the western philosophy. However, his inert search for truth, brought him to the unlettered priest of the Dakshineswar temple, Sri Ramakrishna.
Swami Vivekananda represented Hinduism in the first World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 in Chicago.
Swami Vivekananda’s Contribution to Hinduism:
- Identity: It was Swami Vivekananda who gave to Hinduism as a whole a clear-cut identity, a distinct profile. Before Swamiji came Hinduism was a loose confederation of many different sects. Vivekananda was the first religious leader to speak about the common bases of Hinduism and the common ground of all sects. He was the first person, as guided by his Master Sri Ramakrishna, to accept all Hindu doctrines and the views of all Hindu philosophers and sects as different aspects of one total view of Reality and way of life known as Hinduism.
- Unification: Before Vivekananda came, there was a lot of quarrel and competition among the various sects of Hinduism. Similarly, the protagonists of different systems and schools of philosophy were claiming their views to be the only true and valid ones. By applying Sri Ramakrishna’s doctrine of Harmony (Samanvaya) Vivekananda brought about an overall unification of Hinduism on the basis of the principle of unity in diversity. This is generally called ‘Neo-Vedanta’. Speaking about Vivekananda’s role in this field K M Pannikar, the eminent historian and diplomat, wrote: ‘This new Shankaracharya may well be claimed to be a unifier of Hindu ideology.’
- Defence: Another important service rendered by Vivekananda was to raise his voice in defence of Hinduism. In fact, this was one of the main types of work he did in the West. Christian missionary propaganda had given a wrong understanding of Hinduism and India in Western minds. He had to face a lot of opposition in his attempts to defend Hinduism.
- Meeting the Challenges: At the end of the 19th century, India in general, and Hinduism in particular, faced grave challenges from Western materialistic life, the ideas of Western free society, and the proselytizing activities of Christians. Vivekananda met these challenges by integrating the best elements of Western culture in Hindu culture.
- New Ideal of Monasticism: A major contribution of Vivekananda to Hinduism is the rejuvenation and modernization of monasticism. In this new monastic ideal, followed in the Ramakrishna Order, the ancient principles of renunciation and God realization are combined with service to God in man (Shiva jnane jiva seva). Vivekananda elevated social service to the status of divine service
- Refurbishing of Hindu Philosophy and Religious Doctrines: Vivekananda did not merely interpret ancient Hindu scriptures and philosophical ideas in terms of modern thought. He also added several illuminating original concepts based on his own transcendental experiences and vision of the future. This, however, needs a detailed study of Hindu philosophy which cannot be attempted here.
Vivekananda’s Original Contribution to Vedanta:
Though Vivekananda generally followed Sankara’s Advaita in his discourses, he has made some original contributions too. The following points may specially be noted:
- The Vedas are not particular books but represent the eternal laws of the spiritual world, even as science represents the scientific laws of the material world.
- The three systems of Vedanta- Advaita, Visistadvaita and Dvaita- are not mutually conflicting. They give out the same Truth from different (and complementary) standpoints like the photographs of the same sun taken from different distances and angles.
- The Supreme Being is Personal-Impersonal. The latter is not a negation but a fulfillment of the former.
- Anthropomorphism cannot be avoided in any human conception of God.
- He considers Maya as not a theory, but a statement of fact. What is important is to transcend it and realize that which is beyond it.
- Thus Vivekananda has made Vedanta practical, by stressing the Sadhana aspects like non-attachment and yearning for the truth.