Indeed, in Western Countries, evocating a guru arouses a feeling of general mistrust since it is immediately associated with sectarian indoctrination. Only considered as a sectarian movement leader, the guru does not have any other status than which of a marginal manipulator concealing his belonging to a risky movement in Europe. Yet this connotation is far from its original Indian status. It is then time to redeem gurus' image. This is all the more necessary that nowadays gurus and their spiritual movements are facing a tremendous expansion in India, and this overgrowth turns some of them into huge spiritual and financial multinational companies.
Arise from XIXth century neo-Hinduism, gurus first exercised their influence on Indian middle-class before seducing the whole population and impose the uniqueness of their status to Indian society. Thus, a guru embodies the Dharma, which refers to virtue, religion, education and doctrine in Indian religions. He is considered as a mean to convey wisdom, truth and spirituality thanks to an attitude based on devotion. So if "guru" is usually translated as "spiritual master" or at least " any venerable and respectable person", we can add the Sanskrit prefix "Sat" which means "truth" in order to underline the importance of his role: the result is " Sadgourou". Besides, studying the Sanskrit roots of the term "guru" may reveal many more meanings. The word conveys different ideas such as "big", "extensive", "raising", "vehement", "hard", but also "talk", "express" and "whisper". The etymological wealth of the origin of "guru" is then the best ambassador to explain the complexity of his role within Indian society; his mission being to help the population to access a more developed form of consciousness. Redefining identity and questioning preconceived ideas structuring society, nature, religion and individuals are the goals a guru tries to reach by interacting with those who choose to follow his teaching. He helps those who listen to him to differentiate illusion and reality, and finding a real guru ready to adequately answer to the specific questions of a man enquiring particular answers is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Thus, in India, the disciple values and cherishes the privileged relationship he is involved in with his guru. This is why the sentence "I will get some piece of advice from my guru" is as much a part of Indian customs than the traditional "I will go buy some bread" in Western countries, and in this way it is not considered as a marginal behaviour. In our globalized world, India threw itself in an assembly-line guru production, just like China by manufacturing our material goods.
Nevertheless, the considerable influence a guru possesses on his followers is not a legend and is at the origin of the drafting meaning of the term in Europe where this relationship based on full trust may be assimilated to manipulation. Indeed, one says that when the disciple is ready, here comes the guru, not the other way around. This peculiar relationship is then almost divine in the way that the guru is nearly a prophet who enlightens his disciples. Yet gurus' wisdom is not to be considered as some sentences leading to a general reflect about the meaning of life. Guru's efficiency, utility and influence are rather measured through the daily level of precision of the pieces of advice he promulgates. For instance, when a contract has to be signed with an Indian partner who thoroughly follows the advices of his guru, it will only happened depending on the time and dates the guru considers favorable. These practices may seem absolutely incomprehensible to the occidental eye, but they actually serve to protect oneself from unpredictable problems, as explains the Indian author and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik.
Furthermore, Indians who follow a guru's teaching find themselves in a perpetual quest aiming at a deeper and deeper communion with him. The optimal solution being of course to have recourse to a private guru, who will not give pieces of advice to anyone else and will be able to focus on personalizing and adjusting his messages to one person. But only wealthy businessmen can afford this luxurious possibility in India.
Gurus' ego may sometimes seem disconcerting to those who are not used to it. The conviction with which they share their wisdom, the total absence of nuance and self-questioning and even the verbal violence which may accompany their speech participate to establishing their influence but can also appear extreme. This approach illustrates their will to quickly break sclerosing ways of thinking or behaving which limit the individual in his learning process of a conscious existence. For instance, guru SwamiBoul's remarks are regularly enlivened with insults. Some gurus may then provoke disconcert on purpose in order to set their influence and handle in their own way, ideas, disciples, properties, capital and power. Thus guru's power is defined by the influence his disciples are willing to grant him.
But gurus are not dogmatic. They may even be considered as universalists since they advocate for the reconciliation of customs between Eastern and Western countries, tradition and modernity, world and individual, material and spiritual and head and heart. In order to do so, gurus have to follow and apply a common credo: the answer to worldly problems is within individuals. It is about merging with divine energy, which is everywhere and in everything, thanks to meditation. And the guru will deal with guiding the spiritual searcher on the right path thanks to his own patented technic for which he is the only depositary.
These large-scale intentions made a few gurus to obtain quite a big notoriety, which goes beyond Indian borders. This is notably the case for Ravi Shankar that Forbes magazine designated as the 5th more influent personality in India in 2010. Ravi Shankar mostly proposes practices based on breathing and his technic is called "Sudarshan Kriya". He has a registered trademark for this. Besides, if the original meaning of the term "guru" underwent some kind of twist in Europe, the phenomenon was rooted in India where the guru gradually became a spiritual master in areas much more trivial such as dance or yoga.
Deepening the subject...
If you wish to increase your knowledge about consulting a guru and its rituals, you may go on Sri Aurobindo Ashram website, in Pondicherry. The term "Ashram" is used to designate an institution led by a guru where students may stay to learn from his teaching. In this specific case the term "Gurukula" (Guru standing for teaching and Kula for family) can also be employed to refer to the group of students.
Moreover, you may also visit Krishnamurti and Mooji pages. They both deliver messages and keys to consider life differently, even if they both categorically refuse to be called gurus. Unlike gurus, they do not have a faithful and determined crowd following and listening to them and those who are interested in what they have to say are free to share their vision of life or not. Nevertheless, their teaching stands for a qualitative example of the kind of knowledge that may be shared between a spiritual master and his disciple.
You now know more about the Indian custom consisting in developing a master-student type of relationship with a guru. The origin and use of such a relationship is far from its Western distorted conception, which damages the image of guru's teaching mainly because of the behavioral drafts this image generated. It is time to restore Indian gurus' image, knowing that Gandhi remains one the greatest gurus India has ever seen!