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The Guru or Teacher

Spirit vs. nature, consciousness, karma, the three gunas, it can all seem very strange to those of us who did not grow up with these concepts. Another common source of confusion is the distinction between the terms yogi and guru . A yogi is anyone who practices Yoga. A guru is a teacher, someone advanced in Yoga and capable of leading others on the path. A true guru is typically revered in the East, and in English they are often referred to as prophets, or saints.

Many believe that a guru is essential to the practice of Yoga. The practice of Yoga can be difficult, and the principles can be confusing. Some argue that only through initiation by a guru can an individual truly and correctly use mantras such as Om. Otherwise, the would-be student of Yoga will not know the correct frequency or nature of the mantra. Perhaps most important, though, is the spiritual consciousness provided by the guru. As described by Yogananda:

…If I entered the hermitage in a worried or indifferent frame of mind, my attitude imperceptibly changed. A healing calm descended at the mere sight of my guru. Each day with him was a new experience in joy, peace, and wisdom. Never did I find him deluded or emotionally intoxicated with greed, anger, or human attachment. (pg. 137; Yogananda, 1946)

Another aspect involved in the importance of a guru is his or her lineage. In Western culture we are very individualistic, so it is common for each new teacher or leader to try establishing a new beginning. In the collectivist cultures of the East, however, they pay more attention to the earlier teachers of current teachers. Establishing this lineage is very important, not to suggest that one line of Yoga is better than another, but to connect the past to the present and, presumably, the present to the future. Recent research in the field of positive psychology has suggested that such a balanced time perspective, emphasizing the past, present, and future, is an important facet of psychological well-being (Boniwell, 2005; Boniwell&Zimbardo, 2003).

Discussion Question: In Eastern cultures they talk about gurus, in Western cultures we often hear about mentors. Do the words “guru” and “mentor” mean the same thing to you? Have you ever been inspired by someone you thought of as a guru or mentor?

Pathways to personal growth: schools of yoga

There are many schools of Yoga, and the styles depend somewhat on which translations and which authors you happen to read. In her discourse accompanying the translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras , Bailey refers to four types of Yoga that developed as humanity developed (1927). In chronological order they are Hatha-Yoga , Laya-Yoga , Bhakti-Yoga , and Raja-Yoga (also known as Kriya-Yoga , see Yogananda [1946]). Feuerstein (2003) adds three more to what he describes as the seven major branches of the tree of Hindu Yoga: Jnana-Yoga , Karma-Yoga , and Mantra-Yoga .

The purpose of each of these schools of Yoga, in their own way, is to guide the individual toward the fulfillment of their life. This fulfillment is not necessarily enlightenment , or what we in the West may think of as heaven, but may instead be preparation for steadily improving lives over subsequent reincarnations. In accordance with the concept of karma, if we do our best to live this life as a good and faithful person, then in our future lives we will benefit from the seeds of good karma we have planted in this life. As humans we can achieve enlightenment in this life, but we are not doomed to eternal damnation if we don’t quite make it. So, Yoga offers us a hopeful guide toward being a good person, and teaches ways in which to continue our personal growth.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Personality theory in a cultural context. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11901/1.1
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