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The Difference between a Guru and a Teacher

by Paramhansa Yogananda
From Inner Culture, 1936

The relationship of guru and disciple depicts the only real way to retrace the truant soul's footsteps back to God. In the beginning it is wise to compare many spiritual paths and teachers, but when the real guru and the real teaching are found, then the restless searching must cease.

The thirsty one should not keep seeking wells, but should go to the best well and daily drink its nectar. That is why in India, in the beginning we seek many until we find the right path, and the right master, and then remain loyal to him through death and eternity, until final emancipation.

We can have many teachers first, but only one guru, and no more teachers afterward. Teachers call those who come to learn from them, students, but a guru calls the spiritual aspirant who comes to him, a disciple. Jesus himself said, "None cometh unto the Father but by Me." This signifies that human souls are mostly truant children of God roaming away from Him in the wilderness of suffering.
Such souls are impelled by the scourge of sorrow to have faint glimpses of their lost home of spiritual blessedness. They begin to long for God, and inwardly pray for a way out of the conundrum of life and then, when the prayers of such errant children become deep and strong enough, God is touched and sends help. It is then that the one Father of all sends a superman on earth to give help to the lost seeking souls.

Such a man, ordained by God to help the individual in response to deep prayer, is not an ordinary teacher, but a guru, or a vehicle, whose body, speech, mind, and spirituality God Himself uses to bring the lost souls back to the home of immortality.
We meet little teachers in the beginning through our vague desires to know truth. But the guru (or preceptor) is the living embodiment of scriptural truths and is the agent of salvation appointed by God in response to a devotee's demands for release from all the bondage of matter. It is very difficult to choose the right path from the many religious paths and varied religious opinions.
Most people, who wander from church to church seeking intellectual inspiration, never find God, for intellectual inspiration is necessary only until one begins to "drink" God. Otherwise, intellectual inspiration, (when it forgets to taste God), is detrimental to Self-realization.

It is more easy to follow a living, breathing, talking man (who lives truth) than to follow mute scriptures. If a saint has reached his goal, whether by the shorter yoga route, or by the long spiritual-prayer way, he experiences actual Self-realization. Anyone following him certainly will reach the goal by using either method.

Unlike ordinary prayers, real prayers, which alone can bring conscious response from God, must be offered in meditation, intensely, for many hours continuously until divine response comes. Usually, there is instantaneous recognition between guru and disciple, but sometimes it takes a long time to remember consciously that past close friendship, or to recall the forgotten memory of past incarnations, so long buried beneath ash-heaps of ignorance.

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