What qualifications should we look for in gurus?
Haa! Ye huin na baat. Aise savaal puchhne chaahiye12.
As gurus are meant to act as spiritual doctors, let’s understand their qualifications by looking at the qualifications of medical doctors.
Firstly, doctors are not self-made, but are certified by a pre-existing panel of doctors that educates and trains medical students. Similarly, gurus are not self-made, but are certified by a pre-existing panel of gurus known as the sampradaya. The sampradaya is like a spiritual university that educates and trains seekers. The most diligent seekers after years, even decades, of study and practice become seers. These seers become certified to serve as gurus. In learned spiritual circles, it is a foundational principle that if one is not connected with an authorized sampradaya one is not even a proper seeker, leave alone a seer. The Padma Purana, an important text in the Vedic tradition, states sampradaya vihina ye mantras te nishphala matah “Without a sampradaya, the practices like chanting of mantras will not bear fruit.”
Of course, certification alone doesn’t guarantee that the doctors are competent; they should be able to cure others. And a preliminary evidence of their capability to cure is that they themselves should be healthy. As is rightly said, “physician, heal thyself.” By this standard, the gurus should not just be coming in a parampara but should also be capable of curing others of the disease of misdirected love.
12 Bravo! These are the kind of questions one should ask. They should be able to inspire people to love God instead of worldly things. And a preliminary evidence of their capability is that they themselves should be devoted to God and shouldn’t be attached to worldly things. This requirement of proper conduct on the part of gurus serves as an inbuilt safegaurd. Even if gurus become certified in a parampara but later act improperly, then they are no longer be considered qualified. Thus their qualification is based not on frozen certification, but on living conduct.
Underscoring this point of living conduct, the Chandogya Upanishad (1.2.12), an ancient scripture in the Vedic wisdom-tradition, states the qualifications of the guru thus:
samit-panih shrotriyam brahma-nishtham
“To learn that science (tad-vijnana), one must go to a guru who is learned in scriptural knowledge (shrotriyam) and is fixed in spiritual realization (brahma-nishtam).”
Seen in the light of the doctor metaphor, this verse states that the gurus should have the scriptural knowledge that is necessary for offering spiritual treatment and should themselves be spiritually healthy, being fixed in the spiritual reality.