The importance of a guru is extolled in almost all holy scriptures. In the Skanda Purana there is a dialogue between Lord Shiva and Parvati Devi in which Lord Shiva tells her about the guru. This portion known as Guru Gita consists of more than 300 verses. The Guru Stotram that we chant is a part of this. Many other famous verses also come from this text.
The Guru Gita gives a very interesting analysis of various kinds of gurus classified according to the kind of knowledge imparted. A person adept in academic, secular knowledge is called a 'Sucaka guru' where 'sucaka' means one who indicates. This kind of guru equips us with the basics to live successfully in the world. The second kind of guru is the 'Vacaka guru' and he/she gives the knowledge appropriate to one's station in life (as a student, householder etc.). The 'Vacaka guru' teaches right conduct and in this aspect, our parents and elders in society who mould our conduct are also included.
The third kind of guru is the one who initiates an aspirant into sadhana (spiritual practice) through a mantra and thus is called a 'Diksa guru'. Such a person teaches the mantra, its meaning, the method of japa (repetition of a holy name) and rules of utterance and hence becomes also a 'Bodhaka guru' Thus, at every step of a seeker's growth, the guru provides the clarifying knowledge. We shall discuss some of the verses here that define the word "guru" from different standpoints.
The letter 'gu' denotes darkness and the letter 'ru' stands for light. There is no doubt that the guru is verily the 'Brahman', the swallower of (spiritual) ignorance. ( 1:44)
In the word guru, the letter 'gu' stands for the darkness of spiritual ignorance. The letter 'ru' stands for the light of knowledge that removes that darkness. So guru means one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.
Only 'Brahmajnana' (Knowledge of the Self) is capable of dispelling spiritual ignorance; once illumined by that special knowledge, 'Brahmajnana' and Brahman (The Supreme Self) are realized to be not different from each other. Therefore guru is none other than Brahman, the very light of lights.
As the student evolves, the guru takes on a more intense role and finally becomes the very light of knowledge that burns out the thick cover of darkness. The syllables of 'gu' and 'ru' then shine forth as a beacon of that supreme knowledge.
To be continued