The concept of Guru is fundamental to Sikh theology. While in some other faiths the Guru is considered merely a spiritual preceptor or teacher, in Sikhism, the Guru is an impersonal institution as basic as the religion itself.

Background and Need

Although the term guru is derived from ancient Sanskrit words its meaning was taken in a very general way before the times of Guru Nanak. According to the tradition of Upanishads.

1 Guru is defined as ‘“‘The spiritual teacher; a spiritual parent or preceptor from whom a youth receives the initiatory mantra or prayer, who instructs him in the scriptures, and who conducts the necessary ceremonies in connection with his investiture with a sacred thread.’’ Thus, before Guru Nanak, the term guru was used for a Brahmin, sannyasi, and yogi, priest of a temple or even a school teacher. There were many such gurus and they were different for different individuals in each town or a social group.

It is obvious that a guru of ancient tradition will be a necessity only of ancient times. Today, the value of a traditional guru is being questioned. Many sincere and well-meaning scholars of today believe that a common man, in ancient times, was unsophisticated and uneducated to need a wise man of the community for day to day guidance. Now that education can be acquired by a variety of means and the other intellectual and social necessities are met by specialists and professionals who are accessible to everyone, a need for a traditional guru is questionable. It is this feeling that is expressed by scholars like KrishnaMurti who asserted that there is no need at all for guidance from any guru. We believe that the above comments are only applicable to the gurudom of ancient traditions. In Sikhism the concept of Guru is different and unique. By that Guru is very much needed by a modern man.


Guru of the Sikhs


In Sikhism the term Guru is used in its etymological sense and beyond. It has been given a profound meaning and the highest significance. In Sanskrit word gri means to assimilate or to enlighten. Bhai Santokh Singh explains in Nanak Prakash, the meaning of the term as: gu means ineritia, matter, ignorance, and transience; ru means the Light which illumines the Principle of Consciousness. Bhai Mani Singh gives similar etymology. Gu means darkness and ru means light. Thus Guru means the dispeller of darkness that he dispells by turning on the light. It is this meaning that is incorporated in the term Guru of Sikh theology. Guru Nanak.

2 make it clear by saying, “agyan andhere katia gur gyan ghat balia” (Guru ignited glow of divine knowledge that destroys the darkness of ignorance in our mind).

The Guru in Sikhism is the perfect representative of God, in whom the Light of God shines fully, visibly and completely. According to Guru Nanak .


3 “karte ki mit karta jania ke janai gur soora”’ (the depths of God are known to God and also to the Guru). Guru is not God but like God he is perfect, immortal and divine. “‘Bhulan ander sabh ko abhul guru kartar’’

4 In Guru dwells the light of God Himself. ‘‘Satgur which aap rakhion kar pargat aakh sunaya

5 It means that in the Guru, God has installed His own spirit. Through Guru, God reveals Himself.

The Satguru is the true instrument of His will and He is commissioned by God to reveal His truth to humanity. God reveals Himself in the most extraordinary manner, clearly and perfectly to the Guru and the Guru reveals God’s knowledge to humanity. God calls the Guru His son, image and His own self as is told by Guru Gobind Singh in Bachiter Natak, ‘Mai apna sut tohi nivaja.” The true Guru reveals divine truths which have no equal. Guru Amar Dass

6 says, “satgur sach dirraya iss dhan ki keemat kehi na jai” (True guru reveals the wealth of the truth which is priceless).

Word (Sabad) as Guru

The seed of divine light is there in everybody and in every soul. It remains hidden from our material eyes and from our intellect. Guru provides spiritual eyes and shows that light to man via sabad (Word). As says Guru Amar Dass

7 “Eka jot jot hai sria, sabad dikhai satgur poora” (The one eternal light resides in every body and the true Guru who is_ perfect shows the light through the Word).

On account of his divine prerogative and attributes the Guru, even when in human form, is godly and divine. God speaks to humanity through the Guru. God enlightens the seekers of truth through him and His Word. The Guru of History is far more than the historical activities attributed to him. The Guru of Scriptures is an eternally living being having three personalities as Guru Gobind Singh once told Bhai Nand Lal who recorded it as “Tin rup hain mohe ke suno Nand chit lai, Nirgun, sargun, guru sabad kahon tohi samjhai’’

8 Nirgun is attributeless, a tribute of God in purest form which represents God in the Guru and Guru in the God. In his personality Guru is ominpresent to guide his Sikhs everywhere. The Guru manifest historically, as is the case of ten Gurus and Khalsa Panth, is the second form of Guru. In this form Guru is Sabad (Word), through which Guru communicates with human body and human consciousness.

During the times of the Sikh Gurus it was first thought that ten Gurus themselves were Gurus. But soon was it realized that Guru’s word (sabad) was the real Guru who was manifest through each of the embodiments of the Guru, and presently is residing in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The human bodies of the Guru were only the vehicle for the Word as are the 1430 pages of the present Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Even during their life time the Sikh Gurus insisted that their human body was not to be regarded as Guru, but the Light of the Word that shines in them was their real Guru personality. As was shown in history, that light was passed from one human body to another as needed and, the human bodies chosen for this purpose were of different ages, were dressed differently, and even named differently in order to establish that any particular form of the human body is not considered to be Guru. When Guru was asked by the yogis in regard to the concept of Guru and the disciples, the Guru answered that the true Guru is the Word (sabad) and human consciousness (surat) is the disciple

9 “Sabad guru surat dhun chela.” Sikh theologian, Bhai Gurdas who was also Guru’s scribe, has said, “In the Word is the Guru and the Guru is the Word.’”’ Whoever seeks Light from Guru must approach him mentally and spiritually with dedication and faith. Thus when a disciple imbibes the wisdom of Guru, he blends mentally and spiritually with the Guru as says Guru Amar Das

10 “Sat gur ki jis no mat avai, so satgur mahi semans’”’ (Whoever acquires Guru’s wisdom, will be merged in the Guru).

According to Guru Nanak

11 God merges His Light in the Guru as Word (sabad). “Gur meh aap samoi sabad vartaia.” (In the Guru God blends Himself and Word becomes omnipresent). The Sikh Gurus stressed time and again that sabad (Word) is the Word of God spoken to man through the Guru as Guru Nanak told Lalo

12 ‘‘Jasi meh awaay khasam ki bani tesrha kari gyan wel Lalo” (‘‘O”’ Lalo, I relate the divine knowledge according to the Word as it comes to me from the master). Again Guru Arjan said

13 “‘satgur ki bani sat sat kar jano gursikho har karta aap muhu kadai” (‘‘O”’ Sikhs of the Guru, recognize the Word of the satguru as true, for the Creator Himself put it in the Guru’s mouth). Similarly Guru Nanak said

14 “Sach ki bani Nanak aakhai, sun sunaisi sach ki bela” (Nanak utters the Word of Timeless, He speaks truth when describing the Truth Ultimate).

It was this meaning of the term Guru in_ his mind, when Guru Ram Das talked about Gurbani as

15 “Eh akhar tin aakhia jin jagat sab upaya” (This word comes from Him who has created the whole universe) and Guru Arjan said,

16 “‘haun aapo bol na janda mai kehya sab hukmao jio”’ (I do not know how to speak of Him, I say that He commends me to say). Similarly Guru Ram Das said

17 “Bani guru guru ha bani. wich bani amrit sare” (The Word is Guru and in the Word there are all the ways of immortality). While talking about a visit with the Guru, Guru Amar Das advised his Sikhs to meditate on Guru’s sabad and said

18 “‘satgur no sab ko vekhda, jeta jagat sansar, ditthe mukat na howai jichar sabad na dhar pyar” (the whole world may see and meet the Guru, but mere sight of Guru does not bring salvation unless man contemplates the Guru’s Word).

The Sikh religion clearly commends to obey the Word as contained in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the only Guru. “Guru granth ji maneo pargat gura ki deh, jo prabh ko milbo chai khoj sabad meh lei’ (Accept the Holy Granth as Guru which is the visible personification of the Guru. Whoever wishes to realize God may find Him through the Word contained in it). These instructions were issued by Guru Gobind Singh as recorded by Bhai Prehlad in his writings

19 In summary, the Guru is the religious teacher of man and the spiritual guide of the human consciousness who shines divine light upon darkness of ignorance. The Guru is not to be thought as a mere human body. The human Guru is but the vehicle to administer the sabad (Word) which is the real Guru. The relationship between the Guru and the disciple continues as such until the attainment of a monistic state of “‘aape gurchela.


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p.797 41. Guru Nanak, In: Sri Guru

Granth Sahib, Salok 1, p.1279

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Article extracted from this publication >>  March 8, 1985