If the West has its prophets then the East has its gurus.The origins of the word “guru” are somewhat disputed but is most probable has its root meaning of “heavy”, meaning one heavy with knowledge. It is primarily associated in Hinduism with the role of teaching spiritual wisdom and truth – particularly transcendental knowledge. In modern Hinduism the guru is seen as a holy person who embodies and practices the religious path that they teach and their role is to guide and awaken spiritual enlightenment in the believer. Central to this archetype is then having “disciples” who as they progress along the spiritual path become gurus to the next generation.
The archetype of the guru has been taken up in the West, particularly with those speaking from an Eastern religious tradition. Of all the human religious archetypes, the guru is perhaps the most open to inflation as he/she is seen as embodying the divine in some fashion. Obviously this is a huge temptation to the ego, which will use this devotion by others to feel special/holy/unique or powerful. If the guru is able to deal with this inflation they can be of spiritual help to others if not then there is the ever-present danger of them being as much a predator as a channel of the divine. This has been a particular problem when this model has been brought from the East to the West which elevates the individual and their achievements or insights. The history of gurus in the West is a history littered with people who have begun with the best intentions but not being able to deal with other people’s projections and have ended up being abusive in some form.
For those who still find value in following a guru it is helpful to realise that this is just one archetype that their guru embodies and that it may not mean that other parts of their lives are in order. Their role is to awaken the divine in their disciples and will always fall short of being divine in their own unique human way. As they remind us of our divinity, we have to remind them of their humanity.