views updated May 23 2018

Guru (Skt., ‘heavy’). A teacher, initially of worldly skills or knowledge, hence a parent or a schoolteacher; but more often a teacher of religious knowledge or conveyor of spiritual insight and liberation (mokṣa) in Indian religions, especially among Hindus and Sikhs. The term is often synonymous with ācārya, though the latter is also used for the teacher of a skill. Guru should also be distinguished from paṇḍita, a scholar or learned man.

In Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, and Tantrism the guru is the means whereby the tradition is conveyed through the generations and teachings are authenticated through the guru lineage (paramparā). With the development of bhakti, devotion to the guru as a means of liberation became a central practice, especially in the Sant tradition.

Buddhism has perhaps laid less stress on the guru than Hinduism, though the idea of the teacher as the conveyor of spiritual insight is still important. The idea of the guru is now found in modern W. religious movements some of which have developed directly out of Indian traditions such as Transcendental Meditation, the Hare Krishna (International Society …), and Rajneesh movements.

Conceptions of the guru vary from that of one who is identical with God and conveys liberation (mokṣa), the sat guru, to that of the guru as a guide, showing beings the way but not actually bestowing liberation. For example, in monistic Kashmir Śaivism the guru is identical with God (parameśvara), whereas in dualistic Śaiva Siddhānta he is distinct from God (Śiva).

Among Sikhs, the term refers primarily to Gurū Nānak and his nine successors, Aṅgad, Amar Dās, Rām Dās, Arjan Dev, Hargobind, Har Rāi, Har Krishan, Tegh Bahādur, and Gobind Siṅgh. All manifested the one divine light, just as one lamp is lit from another. This belief in the essential oneness of the Gurūs is central to Sikhism. On the death of Gobind Siṅgh, Gurūship was vested in the Ādi Granth ( Gurū Granth Sāhib) and the Khālsā community. Sikhs venerate the Ādi Granth as Gurū.


views updated Jun 11 2018


A guru is a teacher or spiritual guide, particularly in Hindu, Sikh, or Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The word derives from a Sanskrit term that means "profound," "dense," or "heavy." However, a popular folk etymology for the term breaks it into its component syllables in order to propose that the distinctive function of the guru is to lead devotees or disciples from darkness (gu) to light (ru).

A religious guru usually offers individual and group instruction that supplements what can be found in published or otherwise publicly available sources of information. He or she is likely to serve devoted followers in some combination of capacities that are tailored to fit individual needs and that include the practical and the inspirational as well as the informative dimensions of teaching. Practical advice from a guru, as from a sports coach or similar adviser, is likely to extend into the areas of diet, relationships, patterns of work and rest, and personal religious practice. Inspiration may be conveyed by example from the way the guru lives, or from songs and stories the guru shares.

Many of the roles typically embodied by religious gurus in Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist traditions are similar to the functions performed by spiritual directors or confessors in Roman Catholic Christianity. Gurus are what social theorist Max Weber called types of religious virtuosi. As such, a guru may offer more than one level of initiation to followers and may scale the pedagogical process to suit the various levels of initiates. In such instances, the teachings and practices fitted to a disciple at one level may be considerably different from those assumed to be appropriate for another level. Hence the guru and his or her community will be involved in secrecy as a consequence of organizing instruction around the varying levels or gradations of initiation.

A traditional Hindu text that has become universally popular in the modern world—the Bhagavad Gītā —exemplifies these themes. It is a classic model of the secret dialogue between a guru (Krishna) and a disciple (Arjuna), in this case prompted by a major crisis in the life of the disciple. In the space of eighteen short chapters, Krishna discloses to the perplexed Arjuna by means of speech and induced visions the esoteric (hidden or private) meanings of terms that are widely and popularly familiar within Hindu tradition, overlooked spiritual dimensions within himself, and the unforeseen profundity of his guru. Arjuna becomes transformed by the initiatory power of the conversation represented in the Gītā. Similar stories about guru-disciple encounters are an integral part of Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist spiritual lore.

Spiritual traffic between India and North America over the last century brought many sorts of gurus to the New World. Some of them were more like bishops or popes than spiritual directors or confessors in their claims to spiritual authority. Others were attractively charismatic, and a few were so prone to excesses in their style of living and teaching that they generated public scandal. Moreover, several of the imported gurus designated Western successors. By the end of the twentieth century, the term and the phenomenon are well on the way to becoming indigenous aspects of American religion.

See alsoBhagavad GĪtĀ; Hinduism; Sikhism; Tibetan Buddhism.


Bainbridge, William Sims. The Sociology of ReligiousMovements. 1997.

Feuerstein, Georg. Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics andRadical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools, andRascal Gurus. 1991.

Isherwood, Christopher. My Guru and His Disciple. 1980.

McKean, Lise. Divine Enterprise: Gurus and the HinduNationalist Movement. 1996.

McLeod, Hew. Sikhism. 1997.

McWilliams, Peter. Life 102: What to Do When Your GuruSues You. 1994.

Miller, Timothy, ed. When Prophets Die: The Postcharismatic Fate of New Religious Movements. 1991.

Narayan, Kirin. Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: FolkNarrative in Hindu Religious Teaching. 1989.

Rawlinson, Andrew. The Book of Enlightened Masters:Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions. 1997.

Storr, Anthony. Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus. 1996.

Tweed, Thomas A., and Stephen Prothero, eds. AsianReligions in America: A Documentary History. 1999.

Gene R. Thursby


views updated May 21 2018



Guru is a Hindi word that refers to a teacher or a religious and spiritual guide. Similarly, modern usage of the word in the West usually refers to a wise personmaybe a teacherwith knowledge and expertise about a particular subject, and its usage was made common first in computer circles. Gurus are typically people who are easy to get in touch with and are interested in sharing their knowledge with others.

One of the early gurus in computer science was Jackson Granholm, who in 1962 coined the term "kludge." This word initially referred to a poorly planned combination of parts put together while designing a computer. Therefore, a kludge is a machine that contains several features that are annoying to users and, in retrospect, are aspects that the designer wishes had been done differently. The term now encompasses programs, documentation, and even computing centers, so that the new definition describes systems that were hastily planned, patched together, and have proven themselves to be unreliable.

Another early computer guru was H. R. J. Grosch, who, while working for the IBM Corporation in the 1950s, introduced Grosch's Law, which states that organizations can reduce the overall cost of their hardware if they strengthen their computing power because this will reduce the cost of performing computing functions. This means that the more powerful a computer system is, the lower its costs will be per unit of performance. So, if one spends twice as much on a new computer, one would anticipate its performance to be four times greater.

A third early guru was Gordon Moore, former chairman of the board of Intel, and the person who formulated Moore's Law in 1965 shortly after patenting the integrated circuit . His hypothesis, which states that transistor densities on a single chip will double every eighteen months, has proven to be very accurate over the years. Moore's Law has had an impact on costs and overall system performance, as well as in increased microprocessor speeds.

Some current computer gurus include:

  • Peter J. Denning. His work on virtual memory systems helped make virtual memory a permanent part of modern operating systems.
  • James Gosling, creator of Java and developer of Sun's NeWS windowing system. He was also the principal investigator on the Andrew project while earning his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Tim Berners-Lee, originator of the World Wide Web. Together with colleagues, he developed Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) , the language used for web documents; Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) ; and the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) used to find anything on the web.
  • Linus Torvalds. He developed Linux, an operating system originally designed to maximize the capabilities of the Intel 80386 microprocessor. Later, Linux became widely adopted in industry and educational markets around the world because of its power and flexibility.

More recently, the word "guru" has appeared in numerous web sites covering a wide range of topics, from computer-related sites to supermarket shopping. A recent search for the word brought out 190 different web sites, and the numbers are growing daily. Can all these sites be populated with knowledgeable people who are interested in sharing their knowledge? Are they manned by people who claim to be experts but are not? How is one to know for sure? While doing online research, one has to be wise and take the time to validate the sources of information.

see also Hacking; Invasive Programs; Procedural Languages; Programming; Security.

Ida M. Flynn


Lee, J. A. N. Computer Pioneers. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1995.


views updated May 23 2018


Though many spiritual teachers from India settled in the West through the twentieth century, during the 1970s, the term "guru" (or "teacher," the Indian equivalent of "rabbi") first became well known in America and Europe through the rapid growth of Indian movements built around such figures as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Guru Mahara Ji who attracted many thousands of young adult followers. In the process of moving to America and Europe, the guru concept underwent a change.

In traditional Indian religious life, the guru-chela (teacher-pupil) relationship is a very personal one, restricted to a few followers and usually involving strict austerities, religious observances, study of scriptures, and/or yoga exercises. And although many gurus (for example, Satya Sai Baba) have been reputed miracle workers and the subject of numerous anecdotal accounts of supernormal feats, the goal of mysticism, union with the divine, was generally regarded as paramount and miracles merely incidental. That relationship remained the case with most Indian teachers in the West. However, many in the West were unfamiliar with the nature of spiritual guidance offered by gurus and were put off by the absolutist language of obedience used in traditional literature to describe that relationship.

In the wake of the unexpected favorable reception of Swami Vivekananda at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, many eastern spiritual teachers settled in America and developed relatively small followings. Gurus were often associated in the public mind with miracles, even though their teachings emphasized spiritual development. Following World War II and the declaration of Indian independence from Englandin 1948, and especially the opening of the United States to Asian immigration in 1965, a number of gurus developed missions in the West. The pop cultures and mass advertising techniques of postwar America and Europe facilitated the spread of large international movements. Some of the more popular leaders presented a Westernized Hinduism with roots in the nineteenth-century Hindu Renaissance developed in reaction to the critique of colonial powers to abhorrent (to westerners) practices in popular Hinduism. Some of these teachers promised world peace, success in life, achievement, personal relaxation and/or spiritual advancement through simple meditation techniques or prayers, while other Hindu gurus like Swami Muktananda and Satya Sai Baba attracted thousands of followers through "demonstrating" paranormal phenomena.

The transition from the Hindu concept of the family type guru, rather like a local priest and psychoanalyst, teaching a few followers, to the charismatic leader of millions adopting Western movements, represented a significant transition of the guru-chela relationship. In such a setting traditional admonitions to sacrifice everything to the guru in return for spiritual instruction took on a different meaning.


Greenfield, Robert. The Spiritual Supermarket. New York: Saturday Review Press/E. P. Dutton, 1975.

Murray, Muz. Seeking the Master; A Guide to the Ashrams of India. Jersey, U.K.: Neville Spearman, 1980.

Uban, Sujan Singh. The Gurus of India. London: Fine Books (Oriental)/New Delhi, India: Sterling Publishers, 1977.


views updated Jun 27 2018

gu·ru / ˈgoŏroō; goŏˈroō/ • n. (pl. -rus) (in Hinduism and Buddhism) a spiritual teacher, esp. one who imparts initiation. ∎  each of the ten first leaders of the Sikh religion. ∎  an influential teacher or popular expert: a management guru.


views updated May 11 2018

guru Personal teacher and spiritual master. In traditional Hindu education, boys lived in the home of a guru, who guided their studies of the Vedas and saw to their physical health and ethical training. The first ten leaders of Sikhism assumed the title of guru. Guruship terminated in 1708.


views updated May 29 2018

guru a Hindu spiritual teacher. Also, each of the ten first leaders of the Sikh religion. The word comes from Sanskrit meaning ‘weighty, grave’, hence ‘elder, teacher’.


views updated May 09 2018

guru Hindu spiritual teacher. XVII. — Hind. guru, sb. use of Skr. gurú- weighty, grave, dignified.