Guru in addition to its common meaning of teacher, also means “heavy” in Sanskrit. The role of the guru is therefore weighty or important because it is a crucial one for a disciple. Choosing the right guru can strongly affect a disciple’s spiritual destiny.
The tradition of seeking, evaluating, accepting, and following a guru is deeply rooted in Hindu society from the time of the earliest Hindu writings. However, not all disciples maintain a close outer connection with their guru. While some disciples spend years with their guru, others meet the guru only once in their lifetime. Some see the guru only in visions and dreams. In other cases, the only contact is through written material or pictures of the guru.
In Hinduism, it is believed that certain individuals have developed spiritually to the point where they can lead others to liberation (moksha), or give them access to spiritual states either in this life, or after death. These teachers are believed to have special abilities, such as the capacity to give darshan (a transfer of blessings or spiritual power from guru to disciple via glance or mantra). In addition, some Gurus are said to be able to enter a disciple’s dreams to give teachings or initiation. Sometimes the guru’s gaze can cause a profound spiritual experience. Many students claim to sense a spiritual atmosphere around their teacher which affects their moods and perceptions in positive ways.
In rare cases, the guru is considered to be an avatar, which means incarnation of a god. Human gurus sometimes attain a degree of honor and respect that approaches that of a god. This is because like a God, the true guru has the power and wisdom to help the disciple cross the ocean of suffering to reach a state of spiritual freedom, or a heavenly paradise.
The guru may attain the status of a living saint, and therefore embodies the highest ideals of the individual and culture. He or she demonstrates the reality of spiritual awareness, and shows how it can appear in any individual who provides the right conditions through mental discipline, spiritual practice, devotion, and positive actions in previous lives.